As the months continue to fly by, local elections are somehow upon us again. A season for outlandish stunts, cheap shots and high-vis vest photo opps. Though not exact bellwethers for General Elections, local elections can offer key insight into the current mood of the nation. These May polls will not only be the first time Sunak has been put to an election, but it will also give an indication of whether Starmer’s polling lead translates into votes. The question is: how bad will it be for the Tories?
Surprisingly, the first to launch their local elections campaign were the Conservatives. Sunak stealth-launched his Party’s local elections campaign last Friday, with it going largely undetected; something we’re certain the PM will be pleased about. Kicking the campaign off in the West Midlands, Sunak pledged to “fight for every vote,” pushing out his Government’s five priorities.
Following shortly thereafter, Lib Dem leader Ed Davey burst through a ‘Blue Wall’ of hay bales in Hertfordshire riding a tractor with a big yellow sign reading: “Liberal Democrats Winning Here.” Davey blamed the Conservatives for “crashing the economy” and “adding hundreds of pounds to people’s monthly mortgage payments,” also suggesting that May’s polls were the last chance to send a message to the government before a general election.
Last but certainly not least, Labour leader Keir Starmer launched the Party’s local elections campaign this morning in target area Swindon. The local Labour party is targeting several gains at these elections to take control of Swindon council, which has been led by the Tories since 2004. Labour’s most recent campaign stat for voters across the country is analysis of ONS data, which claims families are spending £13 more per week on groceries in December 2022 compared to 2020-21 — part of a £3,500 annual rise in the cost of essentials.
The significance of both Swindon and the West Midlands as campaign launch sites are not to be understated. Labour lost Swindon to the Conservatives in the 2010 General Election and made significant gains in both constituencies there in 2017. In the West Mids, the Conservatives are hoping to hold on to their seats in Dudley and Walsall North, key red-turned-blue areas that could indicate wider feeling in the Red Wall.
While the next four weeks will make for interesting watching, local elections do have their limitations. National-level policy or announcements may not always be felt on the doorsteps, with the infamous ‘Three Ps’ more often dominating: “potholes, parking and (dog) poos”. Those who take part (turnout is usually low) often do so because they are more concerned about what is happening locally. Certain councils will retain or lose seats simply by virtue of whether they are deemed to be doing a good job, rather than strength of support for a specific party nationally.