Political editor WALTER CRONXITE reports on some extraordinary polling for the Conservatives which exposes how deeply unpopular their bungling Prime Minister has really become
A senior Conservative peer is predicting that his party will lose the flagship boroughs of Wandsworth and Westminster in May’s local elections – and, extraordinarily given everything that has gone on here in the past five years, that could also mean that the Tories fail to win back Croydon, despite the council’s financial collapse under Labour.
Lord Hayward is a noted pollster who correctly predicted the outcomes of the 1992 and 2015 general elections and the Leave victory in the 2016 EU referendum.
In an interview in today’s Evening Standard, Hayward says that the Tories under Prime Minister Boris Johnson are heading for their worst local election results for 50 years.
Wandsworth has been held by the Tories since 1978 and peak Thatcherism. Hayward says that based on current polling, the borough is “almost certain” to be taken by Labour in May. The same could also happen in Westminster.
“The psychological blow of losing those two would be quite substantial,” he said. Hayward thinks that the Tories were also “facing serious challenges” in Barnet and “possibly” Hillingdon.
In Sutton, Tory travails could see their challenge to the LibDems petering out, according to Hayward and the latest poll results.
The article fails to mention Croydon, where particular local conditions could work against Labour, who have had control of the Town Hall since 2014.
But as well as the negative effect of having blundering Boris Johnson in Downing Street, Croydon’s Tories may also struggle with their uber-dull candidate and bland campaign in the borough’s first election for an executive Mayor. The “Shawcross Effect” might yet see Labour prospects in Croydon revived.
On the political battlefronts, national and regional campaign resources – cash for leaflets and social media, visits from ministers and senior MPs, special “Get Out The Vote” efforts by party members and activists – are likely to be diverted to defend key election targets, and that could see the LibDems focus their flimsy resources on places like Sutton, ignoring any real campaigning across Croydon.
And the Conservatives could also be more likely to direct their efforts on holding Wandsworth and Westminster, rather than supporting Jason Perry’s limp campaign in Croydon.
A national opinion survey for Opinium last week showed Labour with a 7 per cent lead over the Conservatives.
Hayward believes those sort of poll figures, if maintained through until the spring, could see the Conservatives surrender four of its seven councils in London, without making any gains.
Johnson, Hayward told the London evening newspaper, “should be very concerned”.
There are 1,833 council seats – and a handful of borough mayoralties – to be contested in London’s 32 boroughs in May.
At the last council elections four years ago, Labour won 1,123 with the Conservatives winning 511, although that was enough for them to hang on to control of their stronghold boroughs in Bexley, Bromley, Wandsworth, Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Barnet and Hillingdon.
In Croydon in 2018, Labour got 41 councillors elected, the Tories 29.
The LibDems won in Sutton, Kingston and Richmond while Havering had no overall control. The remaining 21 boroughs were won by Labour.
“With most opinion polls as they stand, Conservatives could control fewer London boroughs than they have at any point in the 50 years of the existence of these boroughs,” Hayward said.
“If the Conservatives lose a series of boroughs in London, it is likely they would also lose a number of local authorities outside and under those circumstances, it will infuence the view of the Tory party at both voluntary and MP level as to whether they should continue with Boris as leader.”
Last year’s London Assembly and London Mayoral elections were a disappointment for Labour, where they performed particularly weakly in Croydon. But the Conservatives then held a strong lead in most national polls.
It remains possible that despite repeated instances of Tory sleaze being uncovered, lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street, a rebellion by right-wing Conservative MPs over covid restrictions, the true impact of Johnson’s “oven ready” Brexit and the continued bungling over the pandemic, the Prime Minister’s poll ratings – and the fate of his party – might improve between now and May.
Which, as Hayward says, would put the leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer, under pressure within the Labour Party.
“If Labour cannot make big gains in London, then Sir Keir Starmer would be in real trouble because he is perceived as far too metropolitan outside London,” Hayward said.
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