Lib Dems Take Somerset From The Tories In 'Blue Wall' Warning To Boris Johnson
The Liberal Democrats have taken Somerset council from the Conservatives in one of handful of significant local election results that illustrate the risk posed by Ed Davey's party to Tories in the South of England at the next general election.
It was confirmed on Friday afternoon that the party had taken control of the Conservative council, winning 56 seats of the 110 on offer at the time of writing with more results still to be announced.
The Liberal Democrats have made a significant number of gains in traditional Conservative areas.
"This is a political earthquake stretching from Somerset to Cumbria, among rural communities fed up with being taken for granted by Boris Johnson and the Conservatives," Davey said as the Lib Dems declared victory in Somerset.
“The British people have put Conservative MPs on notice. If they don’t get rid of Boris Johnson and stop taking people for granted, Liberal Democrats are coming for them."
Elsewhere in Somerset, which is comprised wholly of Conservative MPs, Tory councillor Hayward Burt, who runs the party's unit responsible for strategising how to defeat the Liberal Democrats, lost his Blackmoor Vale ward to Liberal Democrat candidates, Sarah Dyke and Nicola Clarke.
Senior government sources were this morning keen to mitigate the impact of Tory losses to the Lib Dems by stressing that Labour leader Keir Starmer had so far failed to make major inroads in 'red wall' areas in the North and the Midlands.
But a bigger headache facing Boris Johnson is the Tory party's declining popularity in the South of England where large numbers of Conservative constituencies are located.
The Liberal Democrats took control of Woking in Surrey and Wokingham in Berkshire, and won enough seats in other areas like West Oxfordshire, where the former constituency of ex Tory prime minister David Cameron is located, to take them out of Conservative hands.
The party also gained four seats on Elmbridge Council in Surrey, which is where you find the Esher and Walton constituency of Conservative MP Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister and justice secretary, who will head into the next general election with a thin majority of less than 3,000.
The Lib Dem success in Somerset may also provide a glimpse into the upcoming by-election in Tiverton and Honiton, which is located in neighbouring county Devon. The party is expected to dedicate significant resources to trying to win the seat after it was vacated by erstwhile Tory MP Neil Parish, who resigned after being caught watching pornography in the House of Commons.
The term 'blue wall' has been coined to describe seats in the South of England that have long been controlled by the Conservatives but are moving towards the Liberal Democrats.
The Lib Dems' target voters there are generally seen as socially liberal, moderate Conservatives who were big fans of the politics Cameron, voted against Brexit, and are galled by Boris Johnson's style of leadership.
Speaking on PoliticsHome's The Rundown podcast on Thursday, elections analyst and Tory peer Lord Robert Hayward characterised them as "Remain orientated, Waitrose shopping, Radio 4 listening, higher educated" voters in the South who were turning away from the Tories, "particularly women".
Fellow pollster Sir John Curtice said the Conservative party's performance in the South of England at Thursday's local elections will be a cause of concern for a number of Tory MPs.
"What some Conservative MPs will worry about is that the party seems to have lost ground quite heavily in the South of England," he told BBC Radio 4 this morning.
"The results have been rather better [for the Conservatives] the further North you go. Of course, lots of Tory MPs have their seats in the South of England."
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