The local elections results were a nightmare that portends a general election defeat

The local elections were a disaster for Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party and it is entirely wrong to spin them any other way. Yet the excuses keep coming.

This was just about London and a broader realignment, claim the Tories; they compensated by doing well in the Red Wall; there has been a sudden increase in university graduates who are somehow now guaranteed to vote Left; the fact that Labour didn’t do especially strongly outside London is what really matters; and people were just mad about a short-term set of circumstances beyond the Government’s control.

Keep calm and carry on, say the ostriches: the tax-and-spend, left-right, sub-Blairite strategy will pay off in the end.

This is madness, and all of these claims and excuses are wrong. Yes, there were bright spots for the Tories, such as Nuneaton, but they lost close to 500 seats overall, tearing apart the coalition they’ve been patiently building – and inadvertently falling back towards a disastrous, early 2010s-style 35 per cent strategy, albeit with a different demographic.

It’s not just in London that the Tories performed appallingly: they didn’t do anything like well enough in the Red Wall either, and that was even before the cost of living crisis bites fully.

Yes, Labour’s local performance was underwhelming: it lost seats in areas such as Barnsley, plus the council of Hull to the Lib Dems. But Labour did take Kirklees, Rossendale and two-thirds of seats in the newly formed Cumberland, where the Tories have three MPs.

They also have 20 MPs in Wales and Scotland, half their working-majority: their performance here too was a disaster. 

Wales voted Leave, and underwent a partial Tory renaissance that has now gone into reverse. The Welsh Tories lost their only council and nearly half their seats. They’d also been establishing themselves as the best Unionist alternative to the SNP in Scotland, yet they fell back to third place. The party could survive losing 10 seats in the capital if it gained even more elsewhere – but losing that plus another dozen in the devolved nations, the same amount in the Red Wall and another dozen in the blue wall would put Sir Keir Starmer (or a more compelling successor) in Number 10 at the head of a left-wing coalition.

That is also why highlighting Labour’s somewhat lacklustre share of the vote is missing the point: the Tories need an absolute majority of the seats at Westminster, but Labour does not; it would simply form a coalition with the SNP and Lib Dems. Nicola Sturgeon would call the shots. Given Sinn Fein’s success in Northern Ireland, the Union cannot take any more chaos.

Even if it were true that the Red Wall is uniquely loyal to Boris Johnson, the post-Brexit coalition is not limited to the northern working-class but also depends upon the support of traditional Tories, including the suburban, rural and the aspirational, and ought to include the young who want to buy a home and build a family.

It is no coincidence that many of those lost London seats contain large numbers of Millennials living in rented accommodation, and the aching failure of a government in power for 12 years to tackle the absurd cost of housing goes to the heart of its self-destruction.

A triangulating strategy that tries to appease all, by avoiding offence of any, is alienating those who ought to be natural conservatives but increasingly lack a stake in the system.

The green agenda, meanwhile, has failed to reap any electoral gains at all: the Tories are continuing to hemorrhage high-earning university graduates, the target group, while angering others.

The drubbing in London was felt hardest in areas they should sweep, and they were entirely or almost completely wiped out in many other areas of the capital.

In Richmond, the Tories have just one councillor left, down from 39 in 2014. The very fact that they simultaneously picked up Harrow council and the Croydon mayoralty indicates that the night did not have to be so bad – on the contrary, it is routinely forgotten that 40 per cent of the capital voted to Leave (44 per cent in Greenwich, now with just three blue councillors), and the local issues of crime, taxes and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods ought to play into the hands of a populist centre-Right targeting working and lower middle class voters of all backgrounds.

It is maddening that the Tories have failed to engage with suburban Londoners, instead implementing policies (bizarrely, often delivered by the London mayor and London councils) that make their erstwhile core electorate’s life more difficult and more expensive.

Last Thursday was not a realignment, it was a nationwide disaster. It was also the start of something worse: the pain has only just started for Red Wall voters.

If the Bank of England is only half right in its predictions, we are headed towards a recession at the end of this year that will combine rising unemployment with catastrophic inflation – a cruel mixture that brought Britain to its knees in the 1970s. Nevermind that the Left-wing opposition alliance would propose even worse solutions: the trajectory of a Tory government that raises taxes while bills are tripling is ominously predictable.

Unless the government changes direction very fast, these local results will portend something far worse to come.

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