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Good morning. Here are our thoughts on how the local election results are shaping up, with a first look at one particular result in north London. Next week we’ll be updating you on more key developments from across the country, as Northern Ireland counts votes in the assembly, and local councils in Wales and Scotland declare their results.
2018 all over again
Counting has only just got under way in Scotland and is about to start in Wales, and at the time of writing, only some councils in England have declared their results. So we have an incomplete picture of what exactly has happened in the local elections. Of course, the count has not begun yet for the most important set of elections this week — the Northern Ireland assembly. We will probably have to wait until at least tomorrow to get that outcome, which will matter for the post-conflict region’s tense peace and wider EU-UK relations.
With those caveats in mind, what we’re seeing looks a lot like the 2018 local elections: the Conservatives are consolidating their position in areas that have long voted Labour but backed Brexit in 2016, and Labour are making strides into formerly Tory-dominated areas that backed Remain. (My colleague Peter Foster explains why Brexit still weighs heavily in voters’ minds in his latest Britain after Brexit newsletter).
Thus far, the biggest winners in these local elections are the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. Again, that is reminiscent of 2018, when the Lib Dems made big gains — gains which helped consolidate the position of the then party leader Vince Cable and quieten his critics.
And just as in 2018, the two main parties are deadlocked. Both face big obstacles to winning a majority in parliament at the next election.
Of course, in 2018, we knew that at some point the Labour party would be forced to face one way or the other on Brexit, and that whichever choice they made was probably going to have serious electoral implications. We also knew that at some point Theresa May would be replaced as Conservative leader, while Jeremy Corbyn was certain to lead Labour into the next election.
In the backdrop, the UK faces some very difficult economic challenges. You may well have seen this bleak chart from the Bank of England, but here it is for those of you haven’t. Our economics editor, Chris Giles, has written about what the BoE’s forecast means.
This is not territory you would wish to fight an election on if you were the leader of the Conservative party.
Speaking of leadership, because the Labour party rule book makes removing a sitting leader very difficult, we can say with a high degree of certainty that Sir Keir Starmer will lead Labour into the next election (barring some kind of tragedy or a sudden change in his personal priorities).
While the Tory party’s rule book makes it very easy to remove a sitting leader, so this prediction is higher risk, I think we can also be pretty certain that Starmer will face Boris Johnson at the next election. The big thing keeping Johnson in post is that Conservative MPs aren’t excited by the alternatives, and the economic backdrop makes it hard for pretenders to his throne to impress. These local election results so far look an awful lot like 2018’s results — an election which made it tempting to conclude that the next general election would be a hung parliament. But we all know what happened next, and it’s still too soon to say if the current deadlock will also be blown apart by events.
Keir Starmer’s got a nice Barnet
Over the next few weeks I’ll be looking at some of the more interesting and noteworthy results from the local elections, but the immediately striking one is Barnet. Yesterday, Labour won control of the north London council, which had been held by the Conservatives in all but two elections since 1964.
Although the local authority contains three Conservative-held seats, they are right in the foothills of Labour’s target seats and winning them would not get Labour close to government or anything like it.
But the Barnet seats are emotionally significant to Starmer. He has made putting Labour’s house in order on anti-Semitism a central part of his leadership and puts great personal stock in fixing the problem. This is because Labour’s chances of taking control of the borough in 2018 were badly damaged by the party’s inability to reassure British Jews of its bona fides.
Labour’s victory in Barnet and its failure to win it under former party leader Jeremy Corbyn illustrate Starmer’s strengths and weaknesses. From travelling around the country to cover this election, it was pretty clear that Starmer doesn’t inspire the fear and in some cases real loathing that Corbyn did. But it is also clear that he doesn’t inspire any enthusiasm — which Corbyn did in parts of the country.
One of the reasons political journalists like doing election night broadcasts is that it strokes our egos to be on the telly or the radio. But the other reason is that you can have any number of interesting and useful conversations in the green room with MPs who are too tired to properly lie to you.
The big ace in the hole that Conservative MPs felt they had with Corbyn was that when push came to shove, the UK would recoil at putting him in Downing Street. They think that Starmer can win places like Barnet, seats right on the outer edge of the Conservative majority, but he can’t inspire the kind of enthusiasm necessary for Labour to do anything but win by default.
Now try this
Last night, just hours before heading to the BBC studio, I saw Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness at the cinema. It was lovely to be in a full house, and the film is engagingly silly and pleasingly aware of its disposable silliness. The appearance of a zombie Keir Starmer (if you see it, you’ll understand) was a somewhat unexpected coming together of work and entertainment, though.
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