David Blackburn

A campaign in the heartlands

The AV referendum: it’s enough to make you long for the life to come. As James notes, this Easter Sunday has been shaken by the Lib Dems’ righteous fury over the conduct of the campaign. Many will think this anger synthetic, but its virulence is striking nonetheless. Gone, it seems, is the bonhomie of earlier days, when ministers were surprised by how amenable they found each other. Perhaps they will now put aside childish things and trust in their better judgement.

The AV furore is beginning to relegate the local elections, which might concern the government because these elections are paramount to its reform of local government. Councillors and officials sympathetic to Eric Pickles’ agenda warn that town halls must remain in Conservative hands if localism is to thrive. Should Labour win power in the regions, then its councillors will have a mandate to obfuscate. Pickles and his agenda, then, have a high chance of still-birth.

Ministers will be disheartened by a report in the Sunday Times (£) suggesting Labour is heading for a substantial victory, perhaps collecting 1,300 seats as Lib Dem support disintegrates and the Conservatives are punished for being the incumbent government. However, I’m told that the Tories are not overly concerned. They estimate that the Lib Dem collapse may actually improve Conservative chances, especially in southern England.

Woking provides an example. The borough council is under no overall control: the Conservatives have 18 seats, the Liberal Democrats have 17 and there is one independent. Unsurprisingly, the Labour Party is little more than a curiosity in that stretch of golf course-riven Surrey.

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