This article first appeared on 12th May 2021 at betting.betfair.com
Early Friday morning, I received a text from a friend. “Oh Dear. Labour have died.” At that stage, their catastrophic defeat in the Hartlepool by-election was the only story in town. 24 hours later, after various Mayoral gains, improvements and their best result in Wales for 30 years, the picture didn’t look half so bad. Arguably better than expected.
However another 24 hours later, Keir Starmer’s credibility and political career seemed to be hanging by a thread. Let’s review a dramatic few days.
Hartlepool a historic catastrophe for Labour
Hartlepool was a predictable loss, though the scale represented arguably Labour’s worst ever result. It confirmed the transformation in that region – see Ben Houchen’s dominance as Teeside Mayor – plus the demographic and cultural trends that have become crystal clear since the EU referendum.
Older, whiter constituencies which voted for Brexit have swung dramatically to the Right across the country. However the key point here was answering a known unknown. How much of the former Brexit Party vote would come out for Boris Johnson, having swerved the opportunity despite ideal circumstances at the last election?
Pretty much the entirety, it turns out. Terrifying news for at least a couple of dozen Labour MPs across the North and Midlands. Yvette Cooper and maybe even Ed Miliband will have one eye on alternative careers. Those seats will take the world of saving. To reiterate, these trends weren’t unpredictable but required confirmation.
Different story in less Brexity areas
Elsewhere though, Labour looks anything but dead. In addition to big wins in London, Manchester and Bristol, they gained the West of England Mayoralty on a 10% swing. That unexpected Welsh result is particularly encouraging because it firmly suggests there was a (presumably temporary) Covid-boost for incumbents. If so, Boris Johnson also received one, making his nationwide lead much less secure in the longer term.
Always remember that local elections are a poor guide to general elections. Lower turnout, different dynamics at a local level, much greater willingness to vote for small parties. Lib Dems, Greens or far-right parties always fare much better in these mid-term contests – the perfect time to register a low-risk protest.
This Projected National Vote Share (PNS) is the best indicator of the overall picture. It shows Labour achieving their median result from the last five rounds of local elections, and the Tories achieving their second best score.
Tories have hoovered up the far-right
Arguably a more interesting find, though, lies among how the other parties fared. Their share fell from 44% in 2019 to 35% this year.
Most of that decline came from UKIP, smaller right-wing parties or Brexiteer independents who fared well in 2019. At that stage, Theresa May was shedding tons of votes to the nascent Brexit Party, who would later win the Euro elections. It is safe to assume that largely drove the Tories 8% advance.
Johnson has performed a remarkable achievement in uniting the right-wing of British politics. The far-right has all but been consumed thanks to his brand of Brexiteer, flag-waving, populist Toryism. But set against that structural shift, a Covid-bounce and an extremely damaged opposition, 36% hardly implies dominance.
The Red Wall is now a Blue Wall. Those seats look safe in the bank for at least one more election and taking [1.5] about the Tories to win Most Seats an absolute banker.
Opposite trend persists in the Remain areas
However go South and the picture is far less rosy. Check out these results in true blue Oxfordshire. David Cameron’s former seat is Witney. The ‘Chipping Norton Set‘ is famous – the Camerons, Rupert Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks, Isabel Oakeshott, Jeremy Clarkson all live there.