Local elections have always served as a mid-term barometer of a government’s performance. A good performance can give the government policy agenda a boost, putting pressure on the Leader of the Opposition. Bad results can put pressure on the government to change direction or cement whether or not the PM will fight the next election. For Thatcher in 1990 a bad run at the polls did not immediately end her premiership. But it may have been the final straw. Boris Johnson is in an even more precarious position.
His party has been racked with scandal over the last three years since he took charge. Historically, any other Prime Minister would have resigned ten times over. Johnson has not; true to form he has clung to power at all costs. This has largely been possible because the Conservative party has essentially been taken over by UKIP / Brexit party fanatics. The takeover has happened at every level, and whilst Johnson retains this grassroot support he is difficult to oust. But whilst he is still in charge, the Conservative brand is in tatters. This raises an interesting question; how long will he survive if local parties turn their back on him?
If his reputation proves toxic at the local elections there is a good chance that this could be the beginning of the end. But will he really blow up at the polls?
Doorstep opinion is very much against Johnson
Over the last few weeks there has been a surge of anecdotal stories from Conservative campaigners and councillors. It seems that Johnson’s assault on standards in public life is having real cut through.
For example, https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10159000780574682a photo was circulating on Facebook earlier that showed Conservative candidate literature with the following quotation:
This Thursday, please don’t punish local Conservatives for the mistakes made in Westminster, we are local and proud of where we live, and like you, we want the best for Hartlepool.Conservative candidate for Hartlepool, James Brewer’s, election leaflet
It’s a damning indictment of your government when local candidates are having to actively distance themselves. And Mr Brewer is not the only one. Dawn Denton, Conservative candidate for Somerset County Council has faced similar issues. Ms Denton has had leaflets thrown back at her. Her posters have also been torn down and burnt. This actually lead to her avoiding a local hustings as she didn’t feal she would get a fair hearing. She directly quotes that her constituents do not want to support her because it will be taken as an endorsement of Johnson.
And it’s not just the public, Councillors themselves are also saying enough is enough. Councillor Alan Kopitko has been a Conservative Councillor in Walton for 23 years. This year he has urged voters to back the Liberal Democrat candidate in the local elections.
How will people vote at the Local Elections?
The polling has been pretty damning. Labour held a 27 point lead at one point last week, with projections that they would lose 800 seats. It is telling that a revision to “just” 550 is seen as good news. But with polling like this, the Conservatives will be prepping their excuses. COVID will of course be largely to blame, they will say. They’ll also try to claim that these local elections were held in Labour / Lib Dem / SNP strongholds. There is a glimmer of truth in this, but it overlooks the fact that the polling direction is pretty uniform across the whole country.
Of course, when predictions are this dire it can have the alternative effect. Failure could be “priced in” and anything other than a catastrophic showing could be seen as good news. I am expecting more than one columnist to use the phrase “not as bad as expected”. This could be enough to help Johnson cling on a litter longer. But in truth, that would only be to the detriment of the Conservative party. At this stage, one gets the feeling that every extra month this clown clings on will be another year the Conservatives spend detoxifying in the political wilderness.
Whatever happens though, the most important thing tomorrow is to get out and vote if there’s an election in your area. I am personally going to be voting for two Liberal Democrat and one Labour candidate. In my ward, these three individuals seem to have best the chance of winning based on 2018s results. I’d highly recommend checking out the last set of results on Wikipedia as well as any local polling to see who has the best chance of winning in your area!