Tories are bracing themselves for heavy losses in tomorrow’s local elections amid fears voters are set to punish the party for the ongoing chaos surrounding Brexit.
Tory party chiefs “fear they could lose as many as 1,000 councillors in the local elections”, The Sun reported last week.
The ongoing Brexit turmoil, combined with the impossibly high bar of the Tories’ 2015 local election successes, mean the losses are all but certain to stretch into “the high hundreds”, another insider added.
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Where are elections being held?
The polls will open on 2 May at 248 councils across England and 11 in Northern Ireland, with a total of 8,425 council seats to be contested, according to the BBC. In addition, votes will also be counted for directly elected mayors at six authorities: Bedford, Copeland, Leicester, Mansfield, Middlesbrough and North of Tyne.
Elections are not taking place in London, Birmingham, Scotland or Wales, or in big unitary authorities including Cornwall, Wiltshire, Northumbria, Durham and Shropshire, or parts of Cambridgeshire.
You can find out whether elections are being held for your local authority using the Electoral Commission’s postcode search.
Polls open at 7am and close at 10pm, with half the results expected overnight and the remainder later on Friday.
What are they for?
The local councillors elected will have “the power to decide and scrutinise policy and spending on everything from bin collections to protecting vulnerable children”, says the BBC.
Rachael Farrington, founder of Voting Counts - a campaign to encourage voters to register - told the broadcaster: “Your local council has an impact on many of the services you see and use every day, including housing, transport and public spaces and services. Choices made by the council will have visible impacts on your community, so engaging in local elections is the best way to have your say over who is making these decisions.
“Local councils set the rates of council tax for your area, these rates have a direct impact on your income as well as the services in your area.”
What is likely to happen?
Turnout is expected to drop “dramatically” since the seats were last fought, amid growing disillusionment over the Brexit deadlock, and “that could hit both main parties and establishment groups hard”, says the Daily Mirror.
“It will be the first real indication of the cost at the polling booth for Britain’s ruling party of the chaos in Westminster” says the Financial Times, and both Labour and UKIP will be looking to benefit from the turmoil currently besetting the Tories.
But a Labour spokesperson admitted to PoliticsHome that this is “historically the most difficult” set of elections for its own candidates, because “many of the contesting authorities are in the Tory strongholds in the Shires”.
After nine years of Conservative government, Labour is keen to push an anti-austerity message offering an alternative to slashed local budgets.
The spokesperson added: “It’s impossible to predict the size of the turnout but it’s clear that the impact of the Brexit deadlock is having an effect on people’s enthusiasm to turn out.
“On the doorstep, Labour’s canvassers are reporting that our anti-cuts message, focused on schools and police, is having some cut-through.”
Conservative councils in Leave-voting heartlands “could lay bare the full scale of resentment towards the Tories”, says The Daily Telegraph. Conservative-led authorities, including Peterborough and Southend-on-Sea, will be fighting for “survival” and could see their majorities wiped out next month.
Winchester City Council could also be one to watch, according to the Local Government Information Unit think-tank. With a Conservative council held by one seat over the Liberal Democrats since last year, “it could be a tight call if national divisions come in to play”, says PoliticsHome.
Winchester voted Remain in the 2016 EU referendum by a near 60-40 split.
Meanwhile, Lord Hayward of Cumnor - a Conservative peer who works with ComRes analysing local elections data - told the Telegraph that the Liberal Democrats and the Greens could be surprise beneficiaries of the electorate’s growing dissatisfaction with the main Westminster parties.
As for the UK’s two newest political parties, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is focusing its attention on the European elections, while new centrist party Change UK did not register in time to put up candidates.
Unable to vote for Farage’s new party and with UKIP’s lurch to the right likely to prove unpalatable to many traditional Conservative supporters, “the party could yet avoid the worst-case scenario in the local elections because of a lack of alternatives that could attract Tory voters”, says the FT.
“Many Conservative Leave supporters have concluded the only way to send a message to the Government is to shun this week’s poll” entirely, adds the paper.
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