A disaster in the polls, failing councillor numbers and now the loss of West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, is it too late for the Conservatives to turn it around before the General Election? It would appear so.
Local elections held in a General Election year are a helpful litmus test on the current mood of the public. Are they satisfied with the Government of the day? It’s an opportunity for the public to show their dissatisfaction and these local election results are a clear indication of how voters feel. Projected to lose 500 of the over 1,000 seats they were defending, the Conservatives have not proven the pollsters wrong.

Regional Mayors

In relation to Regional Mayors, the loss of Andy Street in the West Midlands is a significant blow to the Conservatives. Whilst a surprise victory in 2017, Andy Street has gained significant praise for his work championing the region, even devising a new proposal to deliver the second leg of HS2 in conjunction with Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham after the Government had announced its scrapping. Losing by just 1,500 votes will be a bitter pill to swallow and he may well look to Ben Houchen in Tees Valley at what might have been. Ben Houchen, facing a significant challenge from Labour in Tees Valley, secured a new term focusing on local issues and his record, calling for voters to forget about the national government. Ben Bradley, Member of Parliament for Mansfield and Leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, was beaten by former Labour MP for Watford, Claire Ward, to become the first East Midlands Mayor.

A factor in both of the Conservative losses in the Midlands is the performance of Reform UK. Garnering over 34,000 votes in the West Midlands where Andy Street lost to Labour’s Richard Parker by 1,500 votes and securing 40,201 votes to Ben Bradley’s 129,332 and Claire Ward’s 181,040 in the East Midlands, their presence has prevented Andy Street from securing another term and resulted in the East Midlands not being the close contest that it otherwise would have been.

Local Elections

Aligned with predictions, the Conservative vote share has fallen further than in 2023 and whilst it can be said that the last time many of these seats were up for election was during the Covid pandemic which represented a high-water mark for the Conservatives, there is an argument to be made that traditional Conservative voters decided to stay at home.

Similar to the 2023 local elections, not only have the Conservatives lost a considerable number of councillors, sinking to their lowest level since 2003, control has been lost of key local authorities including Brentwood Borough Council, Basildon Council, Dorset Council and Thurrock Council. After filing a Section 114, the local authority version of bankruptcy, the result in Thurrock should not necessarily come as a surprise.

The true winners of these local elections have been smaller parties, including the Greens, Liberal Democrats and Independents. Across England, the Liberal Democrats have increased their overall councillor numbers for this election cycle by 20% and the Greens by 40%.

In Peterborough, after taking over control of the council in a minority administration in November last year, Peterborough First have prevented any one party from gaining a majority. In Oxford City, after 9 councillors split from the Labour group in October 2023 to form a series of independent groups over the Labour Party’s then position on a ceasefire in Gaza, the Independents have split the vote and the new Oxford Independent Alliance party have won 4 seats from Labour, thus preventing Labour from regaining their majority.

It is now clear that in some areas, including Oxford, voters have turned away from Labour in protest to the party’s position on national issues and foreign affairs. Whilst George Galloway’s Workers Party of Great Britain only gained 4 seats across England, their impact on splitting the vote will have had a greater impact.

Police and Crime Commissioners

A hallmark of the coalition government and Theresa May’s time as Home Secretary, the police and crime commissioner elections have probably received the least press coverage. Whilst Labour now has the most commissioners, voter turnout for these elections has been incredibly low, only receiving a boost in areas that were holding other elections concurrently. Interestingly, the Conservatives have held PCC positions across the South in spite of the main opposition or ruling administration at a local level being the Liberal Democrats, most notably in Surrey and Hampshire.  So the perception that the Conservatives are best placed to tackle crime (although that isn’t directly the role of the PCC) appears to have persisted for a role that the party created.

The question is: what do these results mean for the General Election?

For the Conservatives, these election results, whilst expected, will still come as a shock. The further loss of key Conservative administrations in areas with Conservative MPs will create concern amongst the parliamentary party. There are now no Conservative held councils in South Essex, an area that currently has no MPs that are not Conservatives and so the Prime Minister and his team will be under pressure to try and reverse the downward trend in the party’s electoral prospects.

Smaller parties such as the Greens and Reform splitting the vote is a cause for concern for the Labour Party. Labour is hoping to capture some of the Conservative 2019 vote share to help them gain back their previous Red Wall seats and gain elsewhere across the country. Political parties such as Reform and the Greens taking some of this vote share away from Labour makes this objective even more challenging. If this trend persists, Labour will be prevented from securing the majority in Westminster that recent polls have predicted, even with the recent turmoil of the SNP in Scotland.