What the local elections tell us – and it’s not that Labour is set for general election victory
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.
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.
The Tories suffered heavy defeats in other areas where they had also been strong. Among these was Plymouth:
Moor View (Plymouth) council by-election result:
LAB: 53.2% (+23.9)
CON: 33.0% (-30.5)
IND: 6.9% (+6.9)
GRN: 3.3% (-1.1)
LDEM: 2.9% (+0.6)
TUSC: 0.7% (+0.2)
Votes cast: 2,658
Labour GAIN from Conservative.https://t.co/wgmA9n5z04
— Britain Elects (@BritainElects) January 13, 2023
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.
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:
📺 "Greens work incredibly hard in their local communities… People like what they see and are voting for us in ever greater numbers."@AdrianRamsay speaks to @bbclaurak about the positive outlook for our local election results ⤵️ #GetGreensElected | #LocalElection2023 pic.twitter.com/sPUYXCRhpL
— The Green Party (@TheGreenParty) May 5, 2023
Former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas celebrated the group’s first ever overall council win:
🚨WOW! What a breakthrough moment for @TheGreenParty. Gains all around the country, and in Mid-Suffolk we've just won our *first ever* majority administration.
People voted Green & they got Green. If you want fairer, greener communities – join us! 👇https://t.co/UTy4KLva32
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) May 5, 2023
And the Lib Dems claimed they were now on course to oust some Tories in the general election:
"The results we're seeing so far shows we are on course to oust more Conservative MPs at the next General Election."
We need a General Election now. pic.twitter.com/LC3FoP2uJu
— Liberal Democrats (@LibDems) May 5, 2023
However, ex-BBC journalist Steve Howell cited election wizard John Curtice, whose view was that Labour shouldn’t celebrate quite yet:
The results so far don't show Labour moving forward.
Not my verdict but the view of Professor John Curtice, who says: "The rub in the ointment is if you look at Labour's share of the vote and compare what happened 12 months ago, it's basically no change."#LocalElections2023 pic.twitter.com/rzMJgAnqL5
— Steve Howell (@FromSteveHowell) May 5, 2023
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.
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