Local Elections: The Preview
How badly will the Tories do? Will Boris Johnson survive?
Local elections sort the true psephology fans from the lightweights. They are the unknown indie band playing a small club to the stadium rock of general elections. This is especially true in the UK due to our truly baffling system of local Government that splits councils into multiple different varieties, that run elections in seemingly random years. We even use different voting systems in different parts of the country.
This year, though, they will attract more attention than usual because a sub-set of Tory MPs are looking for any excuse to bin the walking embarrassment that is Boris Johnson and replace him with a leader that has a better chance of winning the next general election. Bad enough results in this round of locals, they hope, will encourage enough of their colleagues to realise that, as prominent backbencher Steve Baker said the other day, “the gig is up”.
There are also an unusually large number of seats up for grabs across the country – over 6.8k in total – in a wide range of different types of constituency that will give us some good clues as to how the next general election is shaping up. The majority, 4.4k, are in England, with over 1.2k in both Scotland and Wales.
In this preview I will focus on England and will run through the different types of council in order – London boroughs, Metropolitan boroughs, District Councils and Unitary Authorities. Each group contains different types of tests for the main parties. For each one I’ll set out the key councils to watch.
I’ll look briefly at Wales, but there are large numbers of independents and Plaid Cymru councillors which complicates the picture a lot and makes it hard to draw clear lessons. I won’t look at Scotland in any detail because they use a PR system called Single Transferrable Vote for their council elections. That means none of the councils are in the control of any one party and the results won’t tell us much about a general election under a different system. The only real interest from a national perspective is whether Labour push the Conservatives back into third place in overall vote share.
Then at the end I’ll do some expectation setting. What’s a bad result for the Tories? And what might encourage them to finally depose Johnson? And I’ll give my overall predictions for councils and councillors.