Local elections

Can Ben Houchen save Rishi Sunak?

12 min listen

Tomorrow, voters go to the polls for the last set of local elections in this parliament, alongside 11 mayoral elections in England, 37 police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales plus the London Assembly elections. Could Ben Houchen, Tees Valley Mayor, help turn Rishi Sunak’s fortunes around? You can read James Heale’s assessment of the key battlegrounds here.  Also on the podcast, a look at rumours that Labour are in talks to water down their employment policies.  Lucy Dunn speaks to James Heale and John McTernan, former adviser to Tony Blair. 

What the local election results really mean

The last twelve months have been traumatic for the Conservative Party. It has elected and deposed two party leaders. It has found itself caught in a financial crisis of its own making. And most recently it has faced a still largely unresolved ‘winter of discontent’ from a public sector workforce that, like much of those who are reliant on them, is unhappy about the state of public services.  The opinion polls have long since registered their estimate of the damage this sequence of dramas has inflicted on the party’s popularity. But the local elections last week provided us with the first firm evidence from across the country of actual choices

Why Keir Starmer isn’t living up to the dream of 1997

‘A new dawn has broken has it not?’, asked Tony Blair as the sun first blinked over London’s South Bank on the early morning of 2 May 1997. Blair was addressing a crowd of supporters following Labour’s first general election victory since 1974, an election that saw the party win 43.2 per cent of votes cast and achieve its biggest ever Commons majority, even bigger than Clement Attlee’s in 1945. It was a victory that laid the foundations for an unprecedented 13 years of Labour government. After this year’s local elections nobody in the Labour party is talking about a new dawn. In reality, the results are nowhere near good

Do the Tories really want Boris to fight the next election?

In large part, these local elections were a referendum on a basic proposition. Do the government and the Prime Minister deserve a kick in the pants? As it was virtually impossible to argue against that verdict, Boris Johnson could claim to have done surprisingly well. Indeed, some of his Tory critics are disappointed with the outcome. It does not justify an immediate coup. That said, it seems certain that many of the Tory losses can be blamed on Boris. A lot of traditional Tories, who are used to seriousness in their own lives, will not accept lower standards in their prime minister. This appears to have been especially true in

Is Boris Johnson losing the south?

The great Tory success in 2019 was winning a host of new seats while keeping hold of their traditional southern heartlands, including many seats that had voted Remain. But the local election results will increase concern among Tory MPs that these seats are becoming vulnerable. The Tories have in the last couple of hours lost control of Maidenhead, Huntingdonshire, and Wokingham. Talk to Tories in these types of places and they cite a variety of reasons for their difficulties. Some say that these voters don’t like levelling up – they suspect it is code for taxing them more so that more can be spent in the Tories’ new northern seats.

Ross Clark

Bristol proves it: England doesn’t want elected mayors

Among the many council election results coming in today, the decision of the voters in Bristol to ditch the post of elected mayor, by a margin of 59 to 41 per cent, could easily get missed. Why does it matter? Because the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda proposes to establish elected mayoralties all over England – on the assumption that it is something we will all welcome as a way to bolster local democracy. Yet Bristol is just the latest in a long series of results which prove the opposite: we keep telling the government that we don’t want elected mayors and yet it keeps trying to force them on us

James Kirkup

Wandsworth shows politics is now all about education

Wandsworth, London I’m writing this in Labour-controlled Wandsworth, my leafy bit of south London. More precisely, I’m writing it sitting outside the sort of coffee shop where the drinks come in jam jars and everyone has a beard. I’d also bet that every one of the 30-odd people here – staff and customers – has at least one university degree. In the 20 or so years I’ve lived in London, Wandsworth has gone from being a slightly drab place to the sort of area where bright young (and middle-aged) things with high incomes come to live and play. The two (bearded) twenty-something men on the table next to me are

Nick Tyrone

Could the Liberal Democrats become kingmakers once again?

The narrative around the 2022 local elections looks something like this at present: Labour is strengthening their vote share in London, even taking former Tory citadels like Wandsworth and Westminster. Yet they are doing less well outside of the capital, where there is growth from the Corbyn era but it’s looking much smaller than they had hoped. If similar dynamics continue, the next general election is going to be close, probably hung parliament territory. This makes the Lib Dem performance interesting. If the next general election is as close as today’s result, then a few seats here and there can make all of the difference to who gets to be Prime Minister.

Local elections: Boris Johnson faces his first post-partygate test

The polls have now closed in this year’s local and devolved elections. The parties – and their leaders – face a nervous wait for the results. For Boris Johnson, this is the first electoral test since he was fined by the police for breaking his own Covid rules. Tory MPs will be watching nervously to see how much damage has been done. Tory MPs will be watching nervously to see how much damage has been done CCHQ have done a canny job of expectation management, suggesting that the loss of 800 seats – which would be a truly diabolical night for the party – should be seen as par. But

The Liberal Democrats’ strategic ambiguity

This week’s local elections have mostly been framed as a contest between two options: first, whether the Tories will be given a punishment beating by the electorate over recent scandals; or, second, whether Labour will underperform, giving a second thought to whether or not they can win big again. But there is a third dynamic concerning how the Lib Dems will do, especially how well they will perform in parts of the south of England and particularly in Tory-held constituencies that they will be targeting at the next general election. The Lib Dems have managed some remarkable breakthroughs in recent by-elections, namely in Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire, the latter being particularly

Our local councillors who’ve lost their seats must be sighing with relief

An angry text exchange between me and a former Tory councillor after she lost her seat has got me thinking. During the campaign, I asked this lady if she would like to put a poster in my front garden as it adjoins the village green. Even more to the point, next door to me is her main rival, who has a placard fixed to his front wall. Her reply came back no thanks. She did not want me to put up a poster or placard as it would only make matters worse by reminding the opposition to vote. In terms of the effect on her main opponent, she said it

Who is more upset about Labour’s results: Starmer or the BBC?

It’s not just the Labour party which is institutionally incapable of understanding why the Conservative party kicked the hell out of them in these elections. It is also, of course, the BBC. The prime offender was — hold your breath in surprise — Emily Maitlis on Newsnight. Furlough and vaccines were the sole reason the Tories did well, according to this very affluent, metropolitan, liberal woman, who has a child in boarding school, natch. Dimbo voters again then, too dense to grasp the ‘realities’. But then there was Huw. There always is Mr Edwards. Conducting an interview with Labour’s Lucy Powell, he exuded sympathy and gratitude. No hard questions. Just

Can the UK government navigate the SNP’s calls for a second referendum?

The Unionist tactical voting in Scotland makes it tempting to see the country as split down the middle between pro-independence and anti-independence voters. But this is not quite right. There is a good argument that the Scottish electorate is actually split three ways between Unionists, Nationalists and those who aren’t fully decided on the constitutional question. It is this third group who will determine the result of any second referendum. So, the UK government has to have them in mind when thinking about how to handle the inevitable request for a Section 30 order and a second referendum. The first thing to say is that the UK government should ensure


Alex Salmond’s comeback disaster

As the dust settles from Scotland’s elections and the war of words heats up over a future referendum, one thing is perfectly clear: Alex Salmond’s Alba party has been a monumental failure. The former First Minister, whose disastrous party launch six weeks ago set the tone for what followed, failed to be elected as one of the seven North East MSPs, despite much talk of ‘gaming’ the list system. The 17 seats in that region were divided between the SNP (9) Conservatives (5) Labour (2) and Green (1).Salmond himself polled just 2.3 per cent of the vote in what was once his mighty heartland, with Alba failing to win a

Katy Balls

Andy Burnham makes life more difficult for Starmer

As Keir Starmer spends the weekend working out how exactly to bounce back from disappointing results for his party in the local elections, not every Labour politician is down and out. Step forward Andy Burnham. The Greater Manchester mayor has this afternoon been re-elected with an impressive 67.3 per cent of the vote. In his victory speech on hearing the news, Burnham appeared close to tears as he thanked his family for their support and called for more devolution in England.  But it’s another part of Burnham’s speech that’s likely to set the cat among the pigeons. The former Labour MP used his speech to offer advice on devolution, not just to the Prime

James Forsyth

Andy Street’s success is part of the English political realignment

Andy Street won the West Midlands mayoralty in 2017 by the slimmest of margins, with 50.4 percent of the vote to Labour’s 49.6 percent in the second round. He has been re-elected by a far more comfortable margin: 54 percent in the second round, and was within eight thousand votes of winning on the first round. Street’s success is part of the broader English political realignment. Just look at his vote share in the Black Country. But he also has a distinct political style, emphasising his business experience – he’s the former boss of John Lewis – and a more consensual approach. Voters have clearly decided that they prefer this

Welsh Labour proves again it’s a distinctive, winning brand

After the news of a Tory landslide in Hartlepool was announced early Friday morning, senior Welsh Labour figures were worried. The scale of defeat in the North of England was worse than expected, and represented nothing short of a disaster for Keir Starmer’s leadership. Could the same fate be expected for Labour’s Red Wall in North and South Wales, which started to crack in the 2019 general election? The answer, in short, is no. Welsh Labour stormed to a breathtaking victory in the Senedd election, gaining a seat from its 2016 hall to win thirty of the sixty places in Cardiff Bay. There was a Tory whimper but no bang:

Keir Starmer can’t afford to wait for the Tories to defeat themselves

‘We’re trapped between the two worlds,’ said a Labour worker during the last days of the party’s ill-fated Hartlepool by-election campaign. She meant Labour was strapped for cash, lacking the many small donations that came with Jeremy Corbyn and the big donors who backed Tony Blair. Her comment, however, had a wider relevance. In trying to keep hold of younger, middle-class metropolitan voters who already supported Labour while also attracting back older, small town working-class voters who have abandoned the party over recent elections, the various contests held on Thursday showed Keir Starmer was unable to do either. With the Brexit divide still reinforcing ongoing demographic trends that have seen

Isabel Hardman

Is Keir Starmer destined to become a ‘Kinnock-esque’ figure?

Sir Keir Starmer is planning a policy review as part of his plans to ‘change’ Labour after the dismal Super Thursday results. This sounds, to put it mildly, like a rather small response to a rather big problem. Talking to MPs and campaigners over the past 24 hours, I have noticed a shift in the way many of them describe Labour’s challenge. The Hartlepool result has underlined that the party’s recovery hasn’t yet started, and that it is going to be a very, very long time before that recovery can take the party back into government. Starmer could become a Kinnock-esque figure, who might merely prepare the ground for another