Five takeaways from the local elections

Five takeaways from the local elections

1) Theresa May is heading for a record-breaking win

Even before Thursday’s local elections, few could honestly envisage anything other than a Conservative majority. After confirmation of their 558 gains – a remarkable tally for a party governing alone – the only realistic question involves the scale. The new favourite on Betfair’s Size of Conservative Majority market is 150-174 and they’ve been backed down to around even money to reach 400 seats.

Either target would be a post-WW2 record for a Tory government – beating Margaret Thatcher’s 397 seats from 1983. However these market trends differ significantly from much of the early analysis. Sky News projected a majority of just 48 from these results and the sainted John Curtice talked of even slightly lower.

 

Why the difference? Bettors are predicting that the current opinion polls showing the Tories getting close to 50% are a superior guide than the 38% they were projected to have won on Thursday. The question in a General Election is different – who runs the country, not who runs the council – and turnout much higher. Normally one would expect the opposition to be gaining hundreds of seats at this stage. Labour losing 320 is an ominous signal and they would secretly be delighted with a Tory majority under 50.

 

2) UKIP’s rise and fall fundamentally realigned politics

The extreme disparity in popularity and perceived leadership qualities between May and Corbyn are well-known but the fundamental reason for current trends is the demise of UKIP – who lost all but one of their 115 council seats. The right-wing insurgency seems to have run it’s course now their core goal of leaving the EU has been delivered. Their votes mostly switched to the Tories. If that trend is repeated on June 8th, it will hand them dozens of previously safe Labour seats.

UKIP changed the argument, the Conservative Party and consequently the nature of constituency battles across England. There’s been much talk of UKIP stealing Labour votes in the North and Midlands but, in fact, they took more from the Tories and hoovered up anti-Labour sentiment in uncompetitive constituencies that their rivals had given up on. May’s transformation into a hard Brexiteer won back many a Eurosceptic ex-Tory and made her party relevant again in seats they hadn’t been since the 1980s.

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