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Why the local elections matter more to the Tories

25 April 2014

Forget the European elections, which everyone (particularly those who fancy causing a bit of grief for David Cameron) expects to produce humiliating results for the Conservatives. The elections that have a longer-lasting impact that take place on the same day are the local elections. I look at the emphasis the Tories are putting on campaigning in the locals that goes over and above anything they’re doing for seats in Brussels, in my Telegraph column today. But even those areas that don’t have concurrent local and European polls on 22 May aren’t exhausting themselves on campaigning for the European elections.

Last year, the Conservatives tried to manage expectations by suggesting at one point that they would lose up to 750 seats – in the end they lost 335. This year there’s a private hope that they could hold onto the seats they have – and also gain some in certain areas. The party even hopes it could win some seats off Labour in Tower Hamlets.

Analysis by Tony Travers of the London School of Economics suggests that Croydon, Redbridge, Havering, Merton, Tower Hamlets, Kingston and Harrow are the most marginal councils which could possibly change political control. Travers also expects Ukip to find the most purchase for its campaigns in Havering, Barking and Dagenham and Bexley, as the part has enjoyed its best results in London Assembly elections in eastern boroughs. Chris Game of the University of Birmingham lists Harrow, Merton, Redbridge and Croydon as low-hanging fruit for Labour to take control.

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The reason these council seats matter to MPs is that they draw some of their most dedicated campaigners for their own election from local authority seats. If you take a load of seats from your parliamentary opponent’s party this year, you’ll weaken their 2015 ground war, and strengthen yours.

Some Labour MPs are similarly anxious that a poor showing for their party in these elections in May could cause what one senior MP described to me as ‘serious disillusionment’.

It’s also interesting to note the shift in activists’ demeanour over the past 12 months. MPs campaigning in local elections this year tell me that their local parties are upbeat, that they are cheered by the recovery, and that the national party is generally much slicker. One MP says:

‘My activists think the national party has got its act together. We’re far away from that year of the bad Budget, and they now think we’re focusing on the economy and on welfare. They will react very badly to any uproar in the Parliamentary party after the results.’

Another says:

‘The issue for the European elections is not how badly will you do – we’re not expecting to be in a good place – the issue is will the parliamentary party and the voluntary party remain focused enough to say that if we fall apart and we turn on the leadership we deserve to have our asses kicked.’

Keeping MPs focused is one of the reasons the whips have been organising local election campaign days. It’s also why there has been a significant attempt to reconcile some of the most effective troublemakers, such as Andrew Bridgen, to the party. If Number 10 and the whips can seal up as many sores between now and 22 May, they’ll hope to contain what trouble there is to such a small group that it looks ridiculous and that anxious MPs, particularly those in marginal seats who are becoming increasingly vocal in admonishing troublesome colleagues, turn on the rebels and tell them to shut up.

P.S. One thing that any would-be troublemakers will probably seize on is the next set of net migration figures, published by the ONS on the morning of polling day. If they’re bad, it will be perfect fodder for someone such as David Davis to claim that the Conservatives need to move rightwards on this policy area.

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  • Lady Magdalene

    I got passed a copy of the Conservative’s local/EU election leaflet for my part of Surrey.
    Dire is an understatement. Appalling grammar; no policies just an awful lot of aspirations with no explanation about how they are going to implement them.
    The most interesting section is the EU election page. They are giving permission (so kind) for people to vote UKIP as a protest because “it will strengthen Cameron’s case for renegotiation our membership of the EU.”
    Yeah right. A massive UKIP vote will strengthen Cameron’s hand … when the Quisling has made it perfectly clear to everyone (including Merkel) that regardless of the outcome of any renegotiation, he will advocate staying IN the EU. And they EU has already said on numerous occasions that there will be NO substantial renegotiation anyway.
    So …we’re all allowed to vote UKIP in the EU elections – as long as we don’t vote UKIP in the locals or in the 2015 GE. Then we must do as we’re told and vote CONservative.
    I can’t remember ever reading a more patronising leaflet.

  • George McCarthy

    People need to put their affiliations aside when voting for the European Election, if you want to come out and you’re a Labour, Liberal or Tory voter, you should vote UKIP. The Locals are different, you need to vote for what party best suits and meets, local needs. One thing I came across, which hasn’t been widely advertised << when were they going to inform us?

  • kyalami

    In the locals the Tories will get a kicking in rural areas affected by over-development.

  • Denis_Cooper

    It’s helpful of Isabel to openly explain that the main reason why the Tories want to get Tory councillors elected is to help get Tory MPs elected.

    She could have gone on to explain that the primary reason why David Cameron wants to get Tory MPs elected is so that he himself can continue to be Prime Minister.

    Not the only reason, of course, because he would need some of them to serve as ministers, but above all he needs sufficient numbers of the (often troublesome) Tory MPs so that he can remain Prime Minister.

    Logically, therefore, by the same token anybody who would prefer Nigel Farage to be Prime Minister instead of David Cameron should try to get UKIP councillors elected in order to help get UKIP MPs elected, as well as trying to get UKIP MEPs elected in order to help get UKIP MPs elected.

    Of course none of this is new: in particular many LibDems have long been quite open about their strategy of fighting and winning local elections in order to build up strength to win parliamentary elections.

  • Alexsandr

    people voting UKIP in the euros will vote UKIP in the locals. That’s just common sense.

  • Kitty MLB

    Labour EU election broadcast must be mentioned, assuming you want to constantly
    hear the name David Cameron used as obfuscation and deceit- blame and not much else.
    A pro – EU party who signed away our sovereignty, our power and gave away our
    money to the socialist corrupt, incompetent and worthless iron fist of the EU. And
    Labour didn’t mention the EU once and they expect people to vote for them.
    Never mind the Conservative Party and how they feel about the EU elections ( not much, they know UKIP will do very well) UKIP must shoot Labours fox in the EU
    elections and destroy Labour as a party, an utter disgrace, who are devoted to the EU
    and will not be our voice in the EU or in the UK, everything is about them.

    • davebush999

      And exactly what has Cameron done to turn this around? All he has done is promised a referendum on something that no-one knows, in order to answer a question that hasn’t been posed.

    • George_Arseborne

      Labour being Pro EU, UKIP being Anti EU eerrrrrhhh the Humpty Dumpty Tories Confuse EU and the LIBDEM… eeemmm Vacuum. My question is why is labour tipped to be the favourite at this EU election considering the myth on Britexit?

    • Hexhamgeezer

      Cameron cheerleaders say ‘forget the Euro elections’…Labour Party Political for the EU elections doesn’t mention Europe once……….both equally contemptuous of the electorate.

  • Jenson Phaedor

    Forget the email I had about how important it is then? No worries.

  • MaryLErgstrom

    If Number 10 and the whips can seal up as many sores between now and 22 May, they’ll hope to contain what trouble there is to such a small group that it looks ridiculous and that anxious MPs, particularly those in marginal seats who are becoming increasingly vocal in admonishing troublesome colleagues, turn on the rebels and tell them to shut up.

  • Denis_Cooper

    “Forget the European elections”

    Which it seems is what Labour must have done when putting together last night’s election broadcast; although billed as being a broadcast about the EU Parliament elections it somehow neglected to say anything at all about the EU.

    Shouldn’t there be a rule that if a party is allowed the invaluable privilege of a free broadcast about EU elections then it must be about EU elections and it must at least mention the EU at some point, even if only in passing?

    • Will Rees

      SNP used their party election broadcast to bang on about the September referendum.

      If the only party that cares about the European elections is the party that want out of it, then it really is time to question the UK’s relationship with the thing

      • Denis_Cooper

        You might think so, and you would be right.

        But I expect the Tories will be lodging formal complaints about this abuse of public funds by the Labour party, as I presume that the government meets the costs of the broadcasters as part of its total expenditure on the elections just as it pays Royal Mail for the delivery of election addresses.

        • davebush999

          And what was Cameron’s broadcast about the other day?

          • Denis_Cooper

            Dunno, missed it, have you got a link?

      • mark tayler

        But the vast majority of people in the UK don’t care about the EU

    • Rhoda Klapp8

      If the parties and the media persist in treating this as an off-year popularity contest, we are missing crucial factors which make this a proper election. In fact it flies in the face of any claim to democracy. We are being cheated. Well, cheated doubly because our representatives in the EP are totally ineffectual, by design.

    • Kitty MLB

      Agreed, this was not about the EU, this was the usual spiteful vapid and predictable bash Cameron and the wealthy. His name was mentioned practically constantly.
      If they don’t even think the EU is worth a mention ( odd considering most of the damage to this country by the EU was under their watch) then why
      are they a pro- EU party. The arrogance is breath taking.

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