Between the lines

Five key takeaways from the local elections 2022

Tories battered in London – but Labour fail to make widespread gains

The Conservatives have been hit with a triple whammy of losses in London local elections, losing Wandsworth, Westminster and Barnet councils to Labour.

Following overnight counts in more than half of the country’s councils, Tory losses are “nudging into the triple digits”, Politico’s London Playbook reported, prompting “several Conservative council leaders” to turn “their fire on Boris Johnson”.

But while “there has been a clear shift from the Tories to Labour in London”, the national picture remains “complicated”, said Sky News’s deputy political editor Sam Coates. The results so far mean Keir Starmer “still faces questions” and “it is too early to say if he is gaining enough ground in areas needed to win a general election”.

1

Capital gains

The result in Wandsworth “is a huge symbolic victory for Labour”, said Politico. It was “famously Margaret Thatcher’s favourite Tory council” and “has been under Conservative control for 44 years”. Winning Westminster, which “has been Tory-controlled since it was created 58 years ago”, was also “at the very upper end of Labour’s expectations”.

The outgoing Conservative leader of Wandsworth Council, Ravi Govindia, said “the issue of Boris Johnson” had lost the Conservatives votes in the area, telling the BBC: “Inevitably other events have clouded the judgement of people in Wandsworth.”

Barnet Tory leader Daniel Thomas said the result was “a warning shot from Conservative supporters”, adding: “Clearly if Labour are to get a majority in Parliament they need to win Barnet. They won the council, if they win our parliamentary constituencies as well, then it doesn’t bode well for us to form a government in future general elections.”

The victory shows Labour “continuing to improve in London”, Sky News’s Coates said, as well as indicating a “clear shift away” from the Conservatives in the capital.

2

Marginal growth

While Labour sources were delighted by their performance in London, the results so far suggest Keir Starmer has lost support elsewhere, a polling expert said.

John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, described how Labour support “appeared to have fallen in many areas Sir Keir would need to win in a general election in order to command an overall majority”, The Telegraph said.

He told the BBC: “I think that has to be said, the Labour Party has been wanting to argue throughout the night that these local election results clearly demonstrate evidence of progress. In London that is true.

“But outside of London as compared with 2018 when the seats were last contested, it looks as though Labour’s vote is actually down slightly.”

He added that the Labour vote share across the country is not “quite the degree of progress that they might have anticipated”.

3

Johnson’s fate

Restless Tory backbenchers had been planning to move against Johnson if the results went badly for the Conservatives, with one former cabinet minister telling The Guardian yesterday that MPs’ “phones will be humming over the weekend”. 

But the Daily Mail said that his cabinet is set to “rally round” him as a “defiant” prime minister “brushes off” his party’s losses in the capital and “rebukes” his leadership rivals.

The “results so far have not been as apocalyptic as feared and Labour has not turned in a stellar performance”, the paper reported, prompting his closest allies to “hit the airwaves to argue he should stay on as PM”.

4

Lib Dem bounce

It was a good night for the Liberal Democrats, who “increased support in all four regions of England”, according to analysis carried out for Sky News. 

Deputy political editor Sam Coates said that “winning Hull from Labour, securing gains from the Tories in Merton and depriving the Tories of a majority in David Cameron’s backyard of West Oxfordshire” all spelled a successful election outing for the opposition party.

5

Confusing picture

With Labour claiming success and the Tories downplaying their losses, it is difficult to unpick the spin from the truth of the election results.

A Tory source summed up the confusion, telling Politico it was a “difficult night” for his party due to their losses in the capital, but adding: “Outside London, this is now looking like a bad night for Labour across the rest of the country. 

“They have gone backwards in places like Sunderland, Tyneside, Hartlepool, Nuneaton, Sandwell and Amber Valley, showing they are seriously underperforming in former Labour heartlands which they need to regain.”

The “picture is messy”, said Sky News’s Coates. There were “symbolic wins for Labour, but lots of areas where they still face questions”. As the results stand, “neither main party is unambiguously the winner”, he added.

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