Thursday’s results weren’t hugely surprising and largely reflect long-term national trends. The Conservatives face multiple challenges, including London being almost exclusively a Labour city now, the ‘Red Wall’ seats being hugely competitive, a resurgent Liberal Democrats proving electorally attractive in leafy seats angry about planning and a new potential future threat in historically conservative southern towns like Worthing, Gosport and Hastings (already being referred to as the ‘sea wall’ by some eager political commentators).
Partygate has clearly had an impact and Labour can take some credit for weaponising it effectively at these elections. But this tactical win could prove to be a strategic catastrophe for Labour, depending on the investigations by Durham Police over ‘Beergate’. Starmer has chosen to set the morality bar low through his previous comments on lockdown parties and his own personal integrity (which was previously a significant strength) is now at risk.
Any fair-minded person can see the difference between the systemic culture of arrogant lockdown law-breaking in No.10 and ‘beergate’. The Tories (and certain newspapers) can take credit for framing these very different issues as somehow equivalent, and they may benefit from dragging Labour down with them so that the electorate adopts a ‘plague on both your houses’ approach. The strategic challenge for the Tories is that if they succeed in moving the conversation on from Partygate then they inevitably have to discuss the cost-of-living crisis; a subject on which they have poor messaging, framing and policy solutions.
Local election results rarely have long-term implications for Westminster, but two from this year may buck that trend. Northern Ireland has enormous implications for the constitutional integrity of the whole UK, as well as our future relationship with the EU. And Bristol’s decision to abolish its directly elected Mayor could either be an anomaly that reflects local (green) politics, or it could be an outlier for a trend away from metro mayors that require more devolved powers to work effectively.
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