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9 May 2022

Why the cost-of-living crisis is the Tories’ biggest headache

The loss of 487 council seats by the Tories shows that voters are unconvinced by their response to plummeting living standards.

By Freddie Hayward

The results from Thursday’s elections are finally in. The Tories lost 487 seats across Britain while Labour gained 108 seats and five councils. The Liberal Democrats gained the most seats (223) particularly in the so-called blue wall in the south of England.

Why did so many voters desert the Tories? According to polling of those who voted Conservative in 2019 but not on Thursday, 81 per cent said the cost of living was among the most important issues (compared with 65 per cent citing problems with the NHS and 21 per cent putting immigration). The government’s failure to convince voters it is addressing the cost-of-living crisis has isolated a significant portion of its 2019 electoral coalition. That’s not surprising when more than seven million adults were living in households that had to buy less food in April or had to miss a meal, according to new research from the Food Foundation.

And it’s only going to get worse. The Bank of England said on Friday that inflation is set to reach 10 per cent this year as fears about an impending recession grow. The energy price gap will again increase in the autumn, raising the pressure on the Chancellor to act before the autumn budget.

The other key reason cost of living is set to dominate politics is that the police investigation into Keir Starmer’s beer and takeaway has undermined Labour’s partygate attack line. Any attempt to skewer Boris Johnson over the Downing Street parties – particularly when the Sue Gray report is published and if another fine is issued – will be met with cries of hypocrisy. But this goes both ways. As Jacob Rees-Mogg intimated last night, the Conservatives want to focus on the preeminent political issues such as the cost of living, rather than draw attention to Tory law-breaking by pressing for Starmer to resign.

Labour is stating that no rules were broken. But as partygate has shown, police investigations can drag on. While Labour will strain to point out the differences between partygate and Starmer’s curry, the investigation is expected to become a serious headache for Labour. With their partygate attack line blunted, they may have to turn to the cost-of-living crisis. Given the issue was the main reason former Tory voters abandoned the party on Thursday, that may not be such a bad strategy.

[See also: The local elections show Keir Starmer needs to raise his game]

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