Local Elections 2019: Conservative and Labour anxiety as voter apathy could be the takeaway result

Posted On: 
17th April 2019

Both parties are set for lacklustre local election results, argues Dods Monitoring Consultant Roisin Buckley

Voters will head to the polls on Thursday 2nd May to elect over 8,000 local councillors against a backdrop of voter dissatisfaction with both the Labour and Conservative frontbench.

Though nominally fought over parking permits and potholes, this year local candidates are likely to face the fallout from Brexit gridlock at Westminster. With an embittered electorate, simply getting the vote out could be a key challenge for parties.

Who’s voting?

Elections will be held across most regions in England (with the notable exceptions of London and Birmingham) and the whole of Northern Ireland. Most contests will be in shire districts – traditionally Conservative heartlands. Alongside elections to lower-tier authorities, five directly-elected Mayoralties will be up for grabs in Bedford, Copeland, Leicester, Mansfield and Middlesbrough.

None of the big metropolitan areas or County Councils (think Essex or Leicestershire) are included in the electoral cycle this year. No contests will be fought in Scotland or Wales.

Campaigns

The Conservative nature of the contests is reflected in Labour electioneering: they are standing candidates in only 77 per cent of the seats. Choosing a defensive strategy may work for them – Corbyn is under pressure to deliver results which indicate Labour could perform well in the not unlikely scenario of a snap election.

And he has reason to be optimistic. The most recent Opinium national poll has Corbyn’s Labour on the cusp of entering No10, with the Conservatives 7 points behind. Similar results from BNG and YouGov reflect a wider trend - both main parties are losing support to a renewed UKIP. 

Labour’s slick local election broadcast homed in on the ‘ideological choice’ of austerity. National issues including the NHS, education and transport get a name check – despite county councillors (who are responsible for delivering these polices) not being up for election. Neither Jeremy Corbyn or any other Labour politician appears in the broadcast.

Contrastingly, in a bold move considering the criticisms of her leadership at Westminster, Theresa May personally signs off the Tory broadcast. Vague statements on bins and recycling dominate the low-key pitch.

Local elections run on a four-year cycle and the 2015 results will provide the best comparative insight. Back then, David Cameron’s personal popularity helped the Conservatives to achieve sweeping success across England – gaining 541 seats in total. May is unlikely to repeat this victory.

In what will make grim reading for Conservative candidates, UKIP is standing 1415 candidates at this year's election: an almost a three-fold increase on the 540 candidates that they fielded in 2018. The newly formed Change UK Party are putting all their efforts into the European elections at the end of May and won’t be contesting any seats.

The local elections could yet offer up a glimpse of sentiment at the Tory grassroots - any collapse in voter support here would be another blow to Mrs May’s beleaguered premiership. Earlier this month 100 prospective Conservative councillors wrote a damning letter, warning her that: “Support for the Party around the country is in freefall because our voters think we have broken our promises to them.”

Hardly ringing optimism in Conservative ranks.

Turnout at local elections always trails that of national, often hovering at 33-36 per cent. Any further fall would be indicative of voter apathy driven by disenchantment with Westminster.

Outcome and impact….

To read more and download the local election timeline and look ahead, click here.

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