On thursday there are council and mayoral elections in England, the first big electoral test for Rishi Sunak since he became leader of the Tory party following Liz Truss’s disastrous short stint in Downing Street. There are elections in 230 local authorities across England as well as elections for mayors in Bedford, Leicester, Mansfield and Middlesbrough. Over 8000 council seats are being contested. With the Conservatives trailing Labour by 18% in the polls, it is widely expected that the Conservatives will take a serious beating. The Lib Dems are fielding their largest number of candidates since 2007 and the party hopes that it is well placed to exploit the unpopularity of the government in the Tory heartlands in the south of England. This could result in the Tories being caught in a pincher between advances made by the Lib Dems in the south and south west of England and a resurgent Labour party in the English Midlands and the north.
Conservative expectation management is already out in force, with party managers bracing themselves for heavy losses and gearing up to spin anything short of complete annihilation as a victory for Rishi Sunak. Conservative sources have told the BBC that they expect to lose as many as a thousand seats, anything less than that will be presented as evidence that Labour can’t win the next General Election. However it’s likely that the Conservatives will see hundreds if not a thousand of their councillors losing their seats and could lose control of dozens of local authorities.
A bad showing for the Tories might reanimate Conservative back bench disquiet and reignite the Conservative rebellion which lost steam when Boris Johnson failed to motivate a significant Tory vote against Sunak’s Brexit deal in March. However back bench Conservatives, particularly those in the so-called Red Wall seats which the Conservatives took from Labour in the 2019 General Election, remain nervous and a poor showing from the Tories tomorrow will only aggravate matters within a deeply divided party which has barely papered over the cracks between its various warring factions. A serious drubbing for the Tories might well provoke more open rebellions on the Tory benches and renewed calls for a change of leadership although by this point you’d think that even the densest Tory MP, and there are plenty of those, should realise that it’s not a leadership problem that the Tories have, it’s a problem with reality.
The Conservatives have defined themselves by Brexit and must continue to defend it even though it has been a total disaster which has manifestly failed to deliver any of the many benefits that the Tories insisted it would bring. The party which has always proclaimed itself as the party in whose hands the economy is safe has presided over a year of chaos. The Tories have given us a dreadful cost of living crisis which has seen food and energy bills soar even as the energy companies report massive profits. Strikes spread across the public sector and public services are stretched beyond breaking point. The Tories remain mired in allegations of scandal and sleaze from which they attempt to distract by demonising migrants and trashing what’s left of the UK’s democratic safeguards.
There will be more pressure on Labour leader Keir Starmer as tomorrow will also be his first big electoral test since he took over from Jeremy Corbyn and started to take the Labour party to the right, aping Tory policies on Brexit and vying with them on being cruel to migrants. Within the past few days Starmer has gone even further to full throated Conservatism by signalling that he’s about to do a U turn on Labour’s previous commitment to abolish university tuition fees in England. Starmer needs to achieve a double digit lead over the Tories in the English local government vote if he is to have a convincing chance of victory at the next General Election, widely expected to be held sometime in the latter half of 2024.
However that task will be made harder because tomorrow also sees the first outing for the Conservatives’ voter suppression tactics. The Tories have been taking a leaf out of the book of the ideological allies the American Republicans, and have introduced measures aimed at suppressing voter participation amongst demographic groups which tend not to vote Conservative. As of tomorrow voters will have to produce valid photographic ID at the polling station before they will be permitted to cast a vote. Campaigners estimate that between one and two million people in the UK lack the necessary forms of ID, and they disproportionately come from groups which have a higher percentage of opposition supporters, young people, poorer people, and ethnic minorities.
The rule was introduced to combat the supposed ‘problem’ of voter impersonation, even though data from the Electoral Commission showed that there were only seven allegations of voter impersonation at polling stations the year before this new legislation was introduced, and no police action was taken. The Tory reason for bringing in this requirement was a blatant lie. The legislation introducing it also contained measures which undermine the independence of the Electoral Commission, bringing it under the ultimate control of cabinet ministers. It’s a particularly alarming development in a UK whose parliament is already unable to hold the Government to effective account.
If the Tories cannot win a vote fairly, they have no compunction about introducing undemocratic measures which will allow them to win unfairly. So much for Sunak’s promise to restore accountability and integrity to government. That was yet another of the Conservatives’ many lies, in reality the Conservatives continue to drag the UK ever closer to authoritarianism, and the Labour party eagerly tags behind in its wake.
In Scotland, elections to local authorities and the Scottish Parliament remain unaffected by this anti democratic Conservative voter suppression tactic, these elections are the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament which determines their franchise and what ID if any voters must produce at polling stations. However voters in Scotland at the next Westminster General Election and any Westminster by elections held in Scotland will have to produce photo ID at the polling station in order to cast a vote.
Labour might give the Tories a bloody nose on Thursday but it won’t do anything to change the repeated battering given to democracy and accountability in this failing British state which is currently obsessing over a parade of fancy costumes and looted jewellery as it celebrates a vain, privileged and entitled monarch who is as out of touch with the people as his parliament is.
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