How bad will the local elections be for the Conservatives?

An interesting poll of London voters has been published, slightly changing the working assumptions about the Local Elections next Thursday, May 3rd. The results could be the most significant for a local election since 1990, in which a rout in the capital and other major cities prepared the way for Margaret Thatcher being removed from office six months later. Rows over Europe predominated, she had fallen out with her chancellor, interest rates were rising. You get the picture.

Received wisdom is that the elections this time are going to see the Conservatives receive a drubbing, for a host of obvious reasons I have commented on before but which we need not dwell on now. Today’s poll by YouGov in partnership with Queen Mary University of London, gives Labour 51%, a massive 22 point lead in the 32 London boroughs, but down from 26% in February (the last poll).

In inner London, Labour’s rating is down 8 points to 59% and the Conservatives up five to 22%.

On these numbers, the Conservatives would apparently lose Barnet council, retain Westminster and cling on in Wandsworth. If that were the case, despite a disastrous performance, Theresa May could claim that she had done better than expected. A 29% vote share would be the same David Cameron won in 2014.

It ought to be a source of deep concern to her, however, that the Labour lead among BME voters in London is an astonishing 62%.

My experience is that the further you get from London, the more popular is Theresa May. James Kanagasooriam, a political adviser to Ruth Davidson in Scotland, tweeted recently “the Tories aren’t at risk of losing all councils. Bexley+Bromley likely to stay blue. Expect big Tory gains in Havering/Sutton. Hillingdon looks like a hold. Kingston, Richmond, Barnet, Wandsworth and Westminster all v.close”. Lots of people say: “I wouldn’t want her job, it looks horrible.”

There are reasons for caution and not drawing too many fixed conclusions at this point:

  • It is a poll of only 1,099 people
  • London is very hard to poll
  • Just because the London-based media is howling on about things, doesn’t mean everyone else is. That said, the media remains a significant demotic power base in its own right and Labour are skilful at manipulating it (especially social media).
  • One fifth of all Jewish people in the country live in Barnet. Is that borough really going to vote for a Labour council as this poll apparently suggests? I will only believe that when I see it.
  • Anecdotal evidence, especially in Richmond, is that the Lib Dems may put in a strong showing. This poll doesn’t seem to have picked that up, giving them an unchanged 11%. I can tell you that Barnes, for instance, is a forest of Lib Dem signs. My guess is that the Lib Dems could do better than many admit.
  • Unlike in the EU Referendum and in the General Election, EU citizens are allowed to vote. In the past, they have mostly stayed at home. What will they do this time?

As ever, we will have to await the results.

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