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30 April 2021

How do things stand as we enter the final straight of the local elections?

With just days to go, there’s more at play than #Flatgate.

By Stephen Bush

Campaigning across England, Scotland and Wales is entering its final stretch. 

In Wales, the Welsh Labour Party will be bolstered by another poll – by Savanta ComRes – showing its vote share growing both on 2016 but, equally importantly, compared to some of the jaw-droppingly bad polls from earlier in the campaign.

[see also: What would be a good night for Labour in the 2021 local elections?]

In a way, though, that is the least surprising part of these elections: most voters think that Mark Drakeford, the First Minister, has handled the pandemic well, and that the Welsh government has handled the pandemic better than the Westminster government in England. What looks to be happening in Wales is the familiar election-time story: that the polls are moving in the direction of the candidate with the higher approval ratings and the one judged to have best handled the issue of the day.

The bigger story in Welsh politics will in many ways come after the vote: the Welsh Conservative leader, Andrew RT Davies, has ruled out a deal with Plaid Cymru, and no poll shows the Welsh Liberal Democrats doing anything like well enough to make a continuation of the present Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition possible. A grumpier and more combative version of the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition that governed Wales from 2007 to 2011 seems the likeliest outcome. 

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In Scotland, the SNP appears to have faltered a bit in the campaign’s last days, but a majority remains possible: and some form of SNP government, whether a minority administration of the kind in place since 2016 or a majority one, looks inevitable. But there is still much that is uncertain, not least which one of the Scottish Conservatives’ Douglas Ross or Labour’s Anas Sarwar will emerge as leader of the second party next week. 

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And in England, Boris Johnson is going into the final straight of the local election campaign and the final push in Hartlepool talking up the 44 bills that his government has passed. (Never mind the quality, feel the width!) 

The election results in England will, inevitably, in Westminster be seen as a commentary on whether the questions Boris Johnson is facing about his flat renovations, his free holiday to Mustique and the various conflicts of interest the government is accused of “matter” or not. But the thing, of course, is that sleaze is very rarely that electorally salient: the reason why it matters is that it tends to cause problems in future. A Prime Minister who can’t say no to a costly renovation project can’t say no to a poorly run government project either. 

“Flatgate’s” importance is not that it might move voters directly, but that it might indicate an approach to running the country that means that Johnson won’t go into the final stretch of the next British general election in as good nick as Drakeford is entering the last stretch of the Welsh one. 

[see also: What would be a good night for the Greens in the 2021 local elections?]