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Voters Are Warning Wannabe MPs That They're In No Mood For Westminster

A dog at a polling station (Alamy)

3 min read

Leading pollster Scarlett Maguire has said that the recent local elections could serve as a “warning” to prospective MPs for major political parties that there is an “anti-Westminster mood” among the public who feel that politicians are “not serving their interests”.

The local elections earlier this month saw the Conservatives lose close to 500 seats, as well as their mayor in the West Midlands, Andy Street, who was defeated by the Labour candidate Richard Parker. The Liberal Democrats and Green Party made significant gains, and Reform UK posed a challenge to the Conservative candidates in the seats where they stood. 

Maguire, a director at JL Partners Polling, told PoliticsHome that "people are more willing to vote for smaller parties and then sometimes their vote for small parties is to protest what's happening in Westminster”. 

“Reform did do well where they stood, the Green Party again did do well where they stood and I think there is a warning there to both the Conservative and Labour prospective parliamentary candidates," she said. 

“There’s an anti-Westminster mood. There’s a real sense that politicians in Westminster aren’t serving people in the way that they should be and they’re not serving their interests and this seems to be filtering down.” 

Maguire believed that because the sentiment towards Westminster could mean that many people "stay home" during the general election, national candidates will be “campaigning against quite a different backdrop” to try to appeal to voters who remain engaged enough to turn out.  

At the local elections, the Green Party won 181 seats, an increase of 74 compared to the last time they were up. Labour made 186 gains, winning 1,158 seats overall. The Liberal Democrats won 522 seats, a gain of 104, which meant that they won more seats than the Conservatives this time round on 514, a loss overall of 474 seats. 

Reform UK only won two seats overall, both on Havant Borough Council, but they came third in the Blackpool South by-election, securing only 117 fewer votes than the Tory candidate. The party did not field a full set of candidates, with only 326 across the country, according to the BBC, but they did beat the Conservatives in more than a dozen number of seats on Sunderland City Council. 

Maguire said the problems are particularly acute for the Conservative Party, who have been struggling in the national poll ratings for some time. The most recent voting intention figures from YouGov put Rishi Sunak’s party on 18 per cent, while Labour were on 48 per cent. 

Their unpopularity is leading to some people thinking about which parties would be best placed to challenge Conservative candidates. 

“We saw that people were keen to vote out the Conservatives in local councils, we saw that with the definite presence of quite clever tactical voting," she added.

But Maguire felt that “engagement will be an issue and frustration at politicians full stop" when candidates tackle campaigning, “and I think that’s here to stay for the short term at least”. 

While there are many ways in which local and national elections produce different voter behaviour, that doesn't mean they don't interact at all. As well as the whole country not getting the chance to vote in the same set of local elections, Maguire explained that turnout in a general election can be around double that of locals. People who vote in a local election “tend to be older, they tend to be better off, potentially more politically engaged," she added. “Young voters just don’t vote in locals.” 

The same person may also be considering a different set of priorities when they vote for local representatives compared to choosing an MP.

“They’re not voting for Prime Minister, which is ultimately what people in a general election are voting for,” Maguire said.

“They’re voting for anything from who’s going to take out the bins to what is happening in the Middle East."

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