Would a local election disaster put added pressure on Blair?
With leadership issues affecting all three main parties the local elections on May 4th could be crucial. Will the Cameron leadership come successfully through its first electoral test?; can Labour losses be restricted to acceptable levels? and will the Lib Dems continue to make advances in local government?
In the four years since there were elections in most of the 6,000 or so council seats at stake the political climate has changed dramatically. Just looking at the final opinion polls on General Election voting intention before the local elections of May 2nd 2002 and you realise you were in different era.
In spite of these massive poll deficits the IDS-led Tories finished up just ahead on the night in terms of vote share. They got 34% to Labour’s 33% with 27% for the Lib Dems. In terms of seats, however, Labour chalked up 2,402, the Tories 2,005 and the Lib Dems 1,263.
So if Labour only got a third of the vote when it was so far ahead in the polls four years ago could it be facing a calamity on May 4th? Getting less than 25% seems a distinct possibility with hundreds and hundreds of councillors losing their seats and control of many councils slipping away.
In 2004 the Conservatives won approximately 37 percent of the national equivalent vote, compared to 27 percent for the Liberal Democrats and 26 percent for Labour. So dropping to below a quarter of votes cast seems highly likely.
But Labour has brushed off poor local election results in the past – indeed it followed the third place performance with the 2005 General Election victory only eleven months later. The difference this time is that anti-Blair factions are looking for ammunition to attack the leadership and the party, for the first time in 13 years, is behind in almost all the polls.
Conversely the pressure is on the Tories to pull off spectacular victories under their new leader. There’ll be the usual spinning ahead of time to lower expectations but 44-45% of the vote seems a distinct possibility with huge gains. If the performance is not as great as expected it could take the gloss off the first six months of the Cameron leadership.
If Labour do collapse then the Lib Dems might also end up as net winners on the night in spite of losing some seats to the the Tories. This could provide welcome relief to Charles Kennedy – if he is still in post by then.
No betting markets on this yet but we expect that they will be put in place.