Beyond the Local Ballot Box: Assessing Labour’s Success and Conservative Strategies

Thursday 09th May

In the aftermath of the recent local elections, political enthusiasts across the spectrum have been fervently dissecting the results, searching for insights and implications. Here, Pagefield partners, Rebecca Lury and Josh Lambkin, share their reflections and analysis, offering contrasting perspectives on the outcomes and the road ahead for the Labour and Conservative parties. As Rebecca delves into Labour’s gains, strategic manoeuvres, and overarching narrative, Josh offers a counterpoint, exploring Conservative reactions, potential pitfalls, and the imperative for adaptation.


Rebecca: Showing how much of a committed political junky I am, while everyone else was out enjoying the sunshine on Saturday, I spent far too many hours refreshing the BBC local elections website, and watching Sky TV presenters trying to fill the time while there were delays to the announcement of the West Midlands Mayoral vote.

But it makes a change for the Labour Party to be making gains in an election, and me not resolutely avoiding watching the results to avoid the disappointment.

These elections were a particularly important set for the Labour Party, as the last substantive set (barring any more by-elections) before the much-anticipated General Election.

Labour didn’t want to appear complacent in these elections, and the general trend of election results suggested they should be prepared to take on everyone, everywhere.

While many Mayoral races looked fairly certain to go to Labour, there were big opportunities for Labour to really turn the screws on the Conservatives – targeting the races in Tees Valley and the West Midlands, as well as the Mayoralty covering the Prime Minister’s seat of Richmond, the York and North Yorkshire Mayoralty.

The Labour Party were quietly confident of the results, but also – demonstrating that there are grown-ups in the room – realistic about how ambitious they could be.

With enough time to go, they realised that the West Midlands was looking close, and the gap to bridge in Tees Valley was still quite wide so they smartly re-deployed people to the Midlands. The fact that the end result was so close demonstrates what a difference sensible decision-making can make.

The wild speculation that Sadiq Khan was going to lose to Susan Hall also proved unfounded, and he was returned for an historic third term as London’s Mayor.

Another by-election win – with Chris Webb claiming victory in Blackpool South, only made the Party’s delight even greater.

While not receiving as much coverage, Labour also saw a slew of Police and Crime Commissioner roles transfer hands. While voters might still have a limited understanding of what the role of PCCs are, it further consolidates Labour’s power base at all levels of democracy.

While the Labour Party has successfully managed to spin the results as a great success, it is however notable that their number of local councillor gains is not even half of the Conservative losses.

Having personally stood in many local elections, I know that you cannot accurately translate local election results into people’s voting intentions at a General Election, but substantive gains for the Liberal Democrats and the Greens will give them the further boost they need to throw everything at the General Election campaign.

But for now, I will take this week, like many in the Party, and be thankful that we are making progress, and building momentum for the biggest fight of all at the General Election.


Josh: I think I might have spent far too much time this weekend listening to people in the media arguing about whether Labour won these elections, or the Tories lost them. If I was a Labour activist – which I am not, yet – I would be wondering what exactly it is that I have to do to demonstrate a conclusive victory. Of course, Labour could have done better in certain areas, but give them a break – they are having to deal with extremely favourable polls and the extraordinarily high expectations that come with that.

From a Conservative perspective, I think we are seeing a festival of confirmation bias. You can take whatever you like from these results and probably make a reasonable case for how you think the party should “learn” going forward.

If you are a particular fan of early Cameron-era conservative environmentalism, then you can point to the electoral rewards that Ben Houchen has reaped by spotlighting Teeside as a decarbonised industrial hub. Clearly, campaigning against ULEZ in London didn’t pay off either but I suspect a lot of that was down to the candidate delivering the message, rather than the message itself.

If you find yourself on the other side of the Tory aisle, then these results – and more specifically the loss of ten Police and Crime Commissioners to Labour – clearly show that the Tories need to swing further to the right and tackle issues like immigration and crime more robustly. A point that Suella Braverman was eagerly making on the Laura Kuenessberg show on Sunday.

If you are interested in the game of politics and electoral strategy, then you might have some interesting theories about Rishi Sunak’s personal appeal versus that of his Party. Both Street and Houchen deliberately avoided direct associations with the Party and its leadership, and it (kind of) paid off for them. There may also be some mileage in probing the weaknesses that the Gaza conflict has exposed in certain, specific parts of Labour’s electoral coalition.

But ultimately, as Rebecca says, you simply cannot translate local elections results across into general election predictions. That does not mean the Conservatives can be complacent – quite the opposite. These results, and the analysis that has followed, has revealed a far deeper problem for the party: there are too many lessons to learn and not enough time.


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