In Depth

Conservatives fear local election wipeout

Key London councils could fall to Labour - and Tories fear a nationwide metropolitan meltdown

The Conservatives are braced for big losses in May’s local elections, after a poll found that few voters in London believe the party’s claim that its councils can spend less but still provide high-quality local services.

The survey, commissioned by former Conservative treasurer Lord Ashcroft, suggests only three in ten voters in the capital see the Conservatives as the party of low council tax. A mere 18% believe Tory-run boroughs deliver on the promise of lower bills and better services.

While the “bombshell” study was confined to London, says the Evening Standard, it will nevertheless make worrying reading at Conservative HQ, where analysts believe it may reflect a nationwide trend.

Seats in big metropolitan councils across England, including Manchester and Birmingham, will be up for grabs on 3 May, “and the Conservatives may need to brace for a difficult night”, says the BBC’s Emma Vardy.

Ashcroft’s survey suggests many Londoners plan to use their votes to punish Theresa May and her government for Brexit and spending cuts, while few fear the takeover of local councils by Jeremy Corbyn’s hard-left supporters.

A YouGov poll last week also suggested that Labour may be on course for an election triumph in the capital, seizing Tory strongholds and winning a greater share of the vote than any party for 50 years.

Commissioned by London’s Queen Mary University, it found that 54% of voters in the capital say they would vote for Labour in May, compared to just 28% for the Conservatives.

This would mean Corbyn’s Labour taking control of several Tory-held councils, including the key boroughs of Barnet, Wandsworth and Westminster. Even Kensington and Chelsea, which has remained in Tory hands for over half a century, could “be under threat post-Grenfell”, says The Independent.

Labour’s ambivalent stance on Brexit appears not to have deterred a sizable majority of Remain voters from backing the party, but a big unknown is the impact the estimated 2.8 million EU nationals living in the UK and eligible to vote.

It will be the first and potentially last election since the Brexit vote in which EU citizens will have a say. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has called for EU citizens to use the vote to “punish” the Tories on Brexit – “but many are angry at Labour, too”, says the New Statesman.

A wipeout in London and other metropolitan councils such as Birmingham and Manchester could herald a threat to high-profile Conservative MPs in urban constituencies, most notably Boris Johnson, whose majority in Uxbridge was halved at the last election.

It would also pile pressure on Theresa May, leading to fresh talk of a leadership challenge among worried backbenchers.

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