Boris Johnson on brink as local election analysis shows ‘damage done’ in Tory strongholds

Parties to 'focus on local elections' before partygate says expert

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Voters in England, Scotland and Wales go to the polls in the 2022 local elections on May 5. All London borough councils are being contested, seven areas in England will elect mayors and members will also be elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly. For the Conservatives, the ‘Partygate’ scandal surrounding Prime Minister Boris Johnson looms over the elections. The Tory leader faces a House of Commons investigation into whether he lied to MPs about parties held in Downing Street that broke his own COVID-19 lockdown rules.

Damning polling by Electoral Calculus and Find Out Now published last week appears to hint at the public mood towards the Tories as Mr Johnson’s party is tipped to haemorrhage more than 800 council seats.

Against the backdrop of Partygate, a new analysis by two of the country’s top political scientists has explained what went wrong for the Conservatives at previous local elections, and what the party could learn from their previous performances.

Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, directors of the Election Centre, published their ‘Local Elections Handbook 2021’ last week.

The huge volume of research and data looked at the seats the Conservatives lost in 2021 and how the “damage” had already been done two years earlier.

The experts wrote: “There were setbacks for the Conservatives… with Cambridgeshire, Isle of Wight and Tunbridge Wells lost.

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“Having re-captured Cambridgeshire in 2017 the Conservatives lost seven seats in 2021 and the council reverted to no overall control once again.

“This pattern repeats in the second case with the Conservatives now in the minority on the Isle of Wight which currently has an administration run by Independents and the Green Party.

“A 23-year run of Conservative majority control of Tunbridge Wells ended when seats were lost to the Liberal Democrats and Labour.

“But the real damage had been done in 2019 when the Conservatives lost 13 seats to a combination of Liberal Democrats, Labour and Tunbridge Wells Alliance candidates.”

Despite shedding seats to Labour and the Lib Dems in 2021, the Tories did make some notable gains.

They took control of Cornwall Council, becoming the first party to control the unitary authority since it was created in 2009.

Mr Rallings and Mr Thrasher wrote: “Boundary changes here and councillor numbers falling from 123 to 87, may have helped the party.”

One of the most dramatic wins for the Tories came as the party took control of Northumberland.

For more than 50 years, the unitary authority had been administered by Labour or under no overall control.

In two wards in Northumberland there were dead heats, and the winners were decided by picking lots out of a box.

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The Tories’ slim victory by one seat was wiped out in December last year, however, as the Liberal Democrats won the Hexham by-election.

Another notable victory for the Conservatives in 2021 came as the party re-gained majority control of Nottinghamshire.

It had been eight years since the Tories had controlled the council, which Labour lost to no overall control in 2016.

The new handbook also exposes Labour’s woes at the 2021 elections when the party lost overall control of four councils.

Among them were Durham and Plymouth, both of which saw the Conservatives make strong gains.

The authors added: “Labour’s nine-year period of majority control in Rossendale finally ended following further seat losses to the Conservatives.

“In West Lancashire it is the continuing challenge from local parties that explain Labour’s defeat there.”

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