Earlier this week, the electoral commission published long lists of would-be local councillors, signifying the start of the official race to the 5th of May. There are around 7,500 seats up for grabs across local councils in the UK, so these elections will be the first litmus test of any real scale since the scandals and crises of the past couple of years have piled up for Conservatives.
With fixed penalty notices bumping partygate back into the news cycle, and Sunak’s Spring Budget leaving a lot to be desired, will those losing faith in Boris’ administration turn out to show it? The last time this set of seats was contested was back in 2018 – before we formally Brexited, before Covid-19, and before headlines oscillated between a war in Ukraine and a cost-of-living crisis. A lot has changed, and opposition parties will be hoping those changes will encourage people to flip more Tory councils, sending a message of dissatisfaction to the Government.
But what do Labour and the LibDems have to offer? Labour, getting in early last week with their ‘On your side’ campaign, is pulling punches aimed squarely at high energy prices, a rising tax burden, and increasing inflation rates – easy targets as families swallow a 54% increase in Ofgem’s fuel price cap, and foodbanks see massive increases in referrals. At the campaign launch in Bury, where Christian Wakeford defected from Tories to Labour earlier this year, Starmer talked about “the cost of the Tories”, quoting £2,620 as the figure that the average family is worse off by under Conservative leadership in 2022.
The cherry on top of Labour’s rhetoric is a plan for a windfall tax on oil and gas companies in the North Sea, comprising a solution to lessening the burden on families’ finances in the coming months, giving £600 back to households who need it most. While the issue cuts to the quick for a lot of voters, national level policy can seem a world away when it comes to local politics, especially when the next general election is still two years away.
On the LibDems side, Ed Davey follows suit with national solutions to local problems, and has also been waving around that magic £600 figure to jump on the cost-of-living bandwagon. At a campaign launch in south-west London by the River Wandle, Davey spoke of reducing VAT to 17.5% for one year. The LibDems figure that with increasing inflation, the Government stands to take more than their fair share of VAT, so why not trim that back as a solution to the crisis? Whether or not businesses would actually pass that saving on to consumers seems to be something Davey hasn’t quite thought about there, but points for creativity where it’s due.
While local council elections can seem like small potatoes, a big change at the grassroots could signal a new dawn in theory. As the opposition campaigns ramp up, Tories are in the hot seat to try and prove that despite the rolling scandals and a lack of money in people’s back pockets, they’re still in touch with the everyday, ordinary issues on which battle lines are drawn for local authorities. A slow start to Levelling Up and a cost-of-living crisis aren’t a great way to win over people far and wide, and without a local elections campaign launch so far, we wait with bated breath to see how the Conservatives are going to play this one.