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Local elections and what they could mean for Westminster

This year’s local elections came at a pivotal point in the wider political landscape. In a General Election year, with the Labour Party leading convincingly in the polls, the incumbent Conservative Government was braced for a challenging set of results which would see over 2,000 council seats across England contested, as well as a host of Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners.

Rishi Sunak faced a difficult time at the ballot box, with emerging fractures within his own party and a set of economic circumstances that continue to be felt deeply by the public. With this in mind, and perhaps as largely expected, voting last week saw a significant weakening in the Conservative Party’s position across the country, losing out in key battle grounds across England.

In what was being seen as a major pre-election test for Sunak and his party, the Tories ended up losing 10 councils and over 450 councillors, in a bruising night which saw the opposition gain almost 170 new councillors across England.

The ruling party also faced a significant battle in the fight to expand its power in red wall areas of country and make inroads in Labour’s dominance over Mayoralties. Despite repeated murmurs and briefings that Susan Hall, the Conservative candidate for London Mayor had pulled off a shock victory in the capital, Sadiq Khan ended up comfortably holding the Mayoralty for a landmark third term.

Perhaps in what might be viewed as one of the more concerning and damaging results at CCHQ, however, was Andy Street loss in the West Midlands Mayoral election. Street, who had been the Mayor of the West Midlands for 7 years, lost by the finest of margins to Labour’s Richard Parker.

Andy Street has long been considered one of the brightest stars in the Tory ranks and built up a reputation as a strong presence for the West Midlands and was willing to challenge the Government on local issues such as the controversial scrapping of the northern leg of the HS2 project.

Elsewhere, a hotly contested parliamentary by-election in Blackpool also saw a new Labour MP elected, with the Conservative Party almost beaten to second place by a resurgent Reform UK whose candidates are threatening to have a serious impact on the outcome of any General Election in the near future.

Local election results always come with a warning that not much can be read into how they would play out on the national stage. However, trends are certainly emerging that will at least sharpen minds in the central offices of all major political parties.

This set of results marks a bad but not terminal day for the Conservative Party. Headline figures that the party lost 470 councillors and only had 515 elected, 7 fewer than the Liberal Democrats, are not what the “party of government” will want to see in the run up to a crucial General Election.

However, the Tories have been quick to highlight that Ben Houchen was elected to serve another term as Mayor of Tees Valley and some have pointed out that the results are not as catastrophic as the polls or commentariat had predicted. Despite this, a long uphill battle remains for the Prime Minister and his party who admitted that we could be heading for a “hung parliament” with Labour as the largest party.

On the other side of the coin, Sir Keir Starmer described the local elections as a ‘phenomenal result’ for the Labour Party, with significant progress made in council, by-election, mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections. The opposition will move forward buoyed by this set of results but in the knowledge that the General Election, whenever it may come, is by no means a foregone conclusion.

The Liberal Democrats, Reform UK and Green Party all made significant gains and will be looking to take this momentum into the General Election, where votes for them could be decisive in the event of a hung parliament or otherwise.

While it will likely be a day to forget for the Conservative Party, there is still a lot of campaigning time available before the public next goes to the ballot box. The Government must unite if it is to make inroads in the polls ahead of then and make a case to the public why another electoral term would be beneficial to the country during a cost of living crisis.

If you’d like to discuss how we could help your organisation navigate this turbulent political climate, get in touch today.

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