On Thursday, Brits went to the polls to elect 8,058 local councillors in some 230 councils across England. The elections turned out to be disastrous for the Conservative Party, with them losing over a thousand seats and reaching one of their lowest projected national shares ever.
Both parties, Conservatives and Labour, were doing a lot of expectation management before the vote, but the reality ended up being far worse for the Tories.
Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, explained that the last time these seats were contested in 2019, the Tories did terribly due to Theresa May’s unpopularity.
Thus, this time around, the Conservatives should have been expecting gains to bring them back to pre-2019 numbers. However, instead of gains, the Conservatives ended up losing even more seats.
While the local election results were disastrous for the Tories, it was a decent night for Labour. They won a significant number of seats off the Tories, and in some areas, a bad night for the Tories is, by definition, a good night for Labour.
However, at the time of writing, the projected vote share is giving Labour just an 8-point lead. This is significantly lower than the leads that Blair and Cameron enjoyed before their majorities.
In 1996, for example, a year before the 1997 Labour landslide, Blair’s Labour had a 16-point lead over John Major’s Conservatives. At the 2009 local elections, a year before Cameron’s majority in 2010, the Conservatives won by 15 points.
Despite the gains for Labour, the party still has some ground to cover if it wants to achieve the kind of lead that has historically preceded major victories in national elections.
The fact that the anti-Tory vote was split relatively evenly between Labour and the Lib Dems could be a factor in this lower-than-ideal lead for Labour.
Lib Dems and Greens’ Gains
Conservative losses in the local elections were split relatively evenly between Labour and the Lib Dems, who had a particularly good night. Despite winning over 700 councillors in 2019, essentially doubling their total, the Lib Dems won hundreds more seats this time around, with particularly strong showings in southern rural seats.
Similarly, the Greens had a good night, winning over 100 seats and seeing a greater increase in vote share than any other party. The number of Green councillors has been rising exponentially for the past few years, and this trend looks set to continue.
The Anti-Tory Vote
The headline takeaway from the election is that there’s clearly a committed anti-Tory vote, even if it’s split between the opposition parties at the moment.
Sunak’s Political Future
In response to the disappointing election results, more right-wing Conservatives are blaming Sunak’s political mildness and calling for him to adopt what they describe as proper conservative policies, which essentially means being more right-wing and more ardently pro-Brexit.
There’s even been some murmurings about bringing back Boris Johnson, similar to what happened after Theresa May’s local election result in 2019.
Will the Tories Bring Boris Back?
As things stand, it’s still very unlikely that the Conservatives will bring Boris back. Switching leaders this soon before a general election, especially with their reputation for internal chaos, would be a risky move.
While Sunak hasn’t performed well in the elections, Boris Johnson is conspicuously less popular than the current Prime Minister. Most Tory MPs know this, which is why Sunak will likely continue in his post. Nonetheless, Tory MPs did vote for Truss, so nothing can be ruled out completely.