It’s still early in the day but a picture is developing in this year’s local elections. The big question in advance was whether Labour’s double-digit poll lead was real. The results so far, and most are still to come, suggest that it is.
Labour has done well overnight, taking control of Tory councils in Stoke-on-Trent and Plymouth and winning a surprise cluster of seats in Tamworth. Stoke – a totemic Red Wall seat, a Brexit-voting area – is exactly the type of place that Labour needs to reclaim to recover from its collapse in the 2019 general election. Interestingly, the party appears to be attracting Brexit voters – that’s something to watch out for when the results are finalised. Another sign, perhaps, that the electoral coalition that propelled Boris Johnson into No 10 is disintegrating.
These results will soothe some of the anxiety within Labour over whether its poll lead is artificial. Keir Starmer will be quietly reassured this morning.
The Conservatives, less so. Rishi Sunak’s premiership is defined by a lack of time. He was tasked with resurrecting the Tories’ fortunes after the disaster of Liz Truss. And he’s made some progress: had these elections occurred while his predecessor was in office they would have been truly dismal.
Yet the party is still suffering setbacks across the country. For all the talk of a “Rishi Revival”, the fundamental fact of British politics is that voters are enduring the biggest fall in their living standards since records began in 1956. And if Labour is making gains among Brexit voters, that does not bode well for Sunak.
Only around a quarter of the results have been declared, with the remainder to follow this afternoon. Throughout the day, watch out for whether the Liberal Democrats can continue their advance through the Tories’ heartlands.
But the most important metric – both in terms of the next general election and the story told about these elections – will be the national projected vote share, which takes the results and applies them nationally. Labour believes that calculation will give it an eight percentage point lead over the Conservatives. But the party probably needs a ten-point lead to be confident of a majority at the next election. We’ll see.
[See also: The election watcher’s guide to 4 May 2023]