What the local elections tell us – and it’s not that Labour is set for general election victory

5 May 2023 – https://www.thecanary.co/

Joe Glenton 

Local election results from across the UK are rolling in – and it looks like the Tories have taken a drubbing. But despite crowing from Labour, the picture is a complex one.

Keir Starmer’s party made gains in right-wing areas – proving that abandoning your principles to dog-whistle racism is a good career move after all. Plus, Labour didn’t so much win so much as the the Tories lost. Ultimately, though, and it already appears voter disenfranchisement is the main story, here – with some turnouts being as low as 18%.

Local elections: “disappointing”

Conservatives suffered high-profile losses during prime minister Rishi Sunak’s first major electoral test since he took office last year. As of 7:30pm on Friday 5 May, 213 councils had declared their results. The Tories had lost 856 seats, while Labour made gains of 554. However, it was the Lib Dems who really performed – having gained 379 seats as of 7:30pm.

In the depths of the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades, the local council elections held on Thursday 4 May across swathes of England were seen as an indicator for general elections – the next of which is expected in 2024. So, an under-pressure Sunak told reporters:

It’s always disappointing to lose hard-working Conservative councillors.

Meanwhile, Labour officials claimed that the trend was already clear from the 230 English districts electing more than 8,000 council seats. National campaign co-ordinator Shabana Mahmood said:

These results have been a disaster for Rishi Sunak as voters punish him for the Tories’ failure.

She added:

These results show that we are on course for a majority Labour government.

Of course, what we’re seeing is Starmer’s right-wing Labour Party making gains in traditionally right-wing areas – like Meadway, and Maidstone, in Kent. This is unsurprising, given Starmer’s upping of racist rhetoric in recent months – not least about refugees and foreign-born workers.

Key results

The Tories suffered heavy defeats in other areas where they had also been strong. Among these was Plymouth:

Local Tory MP Johnny Mercer sounded decidedly rattled:

The way the Conservative council did it, particularly at night, I obviously would have done it differently.

He blamed instability at the top of the party for the losses:

Four Conservative leaders in two years in the local council group hasn’t helped. That’s the big lesson from tonight – people don’t vote for divided parties.

1997 repeat?

The current trend would put the Tories on course for their worst defeat in local elections since the mid-1990s, before Labour took power nationally in a landslide under Tony Blair.

But smaller parties also enjoyed gains. The Green Party celebrated advances across the country:

However, ex-BBC journalist Steve Howell cited election wizard John Curtice, whose view was that Labour shouldn’t celebrate quite yet:

Election portents? Or local election BS?

Results are still coming in. But amid the rhetoric, it remains difficult to forecast what the general election might look like. The Tories certainly seem to be on the ropes. But Labour’s results don’t seem to match their rhetoric. And smaller parties seem to have made gains. Add to that that the next general election may be over a year away, while domestic and international politics remain volatile – and it’s hard to predict an outcome.

What we do know is that Starmer’s party will be emboldened by the results – more so, given its MO in the past two years has been to be as Tory as possible. So, we can expect more of this shift rightwards from Starmer – even though, in reality, most voters didn’t give enough of a shit to go and vote for him and his goons.

This is because what is also clear is that the state, and politicians, have once again utterly disenfranchised the majority of the public from local democracy.

No-one cares – and who can blame them?

Turnouts appeared to be generally between 18-32%. This is not unusual, although the lower end of 18% is slightly low for local elections. But of course, we know why that is – the Tories voter ID requirements which hammer the poorest people the most. Not that the rules did them any favours when it came down to it.

So, roll on the general election in 2024 – because given the state of the Tories, the state of Labour, the state of capitalism, and the state of democracy – it won’t really matter who wins, anyway. Less and less people feel like politics works for them – so less and less people engage with it, anyway. And who can blame them?

Additional reporting by Agence-France Press.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Bill Nicholls, cropped to 770 x 403, licenced under CC BY 2.0.