What’s at stake in the local elections?

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Let’s be honest. Even at the best of times, local elections are hardly the most exciting of events. That’s not fair, because what happens in your town hall has a huge bearing on your day-to-day life. But the fact is this week’s local elections will largely be decided by national and international politics.

These local elections are in many ways, just a dress rehearsal for the European vote later in May. They’ll be disastrous for the Conservatives, with no real comfort for the party — only the certainty of an even worse defeat three weeks later.

The seats up for grabs this week were last fought in 2015, on the same day as the General Election that gave the Tories an unexpected majority. 

The turnout was far, far higher than it will be this week, and Tories were hugely motivated to vote, definitely not the case today. 

If you’re a Tory activist, either furious at the party’s bungled handling of Brexit, or simply embarrassed by it, how do you drag yourself from one doorstep to another, keeping a straight face as you urge people to support a party collapsing before your eyes? 

The Conservatives have the most to loose from the local elections...

The Conservatives have the most to loose from the local elections...

It’s already clear the Conservatives will lose hundreds of council seats, and control of a few councils too. The Liberal Democrats could be the main beneficiaries, not because of a sudden surge in popularity, but simply because many traditional Tory voters won’t be able to stomach backing the party this time.

It’s unfair for anger at national leaders to be taken out on often hardworking local politicians, but the fact is voters have no other route to express their frustration.

It’s only the warm-up act

Then, three weeks later, we’ll go through it all again. But the European elections will be an even bigger kicking for the Conservative Party.

For many voters, this is a free hit. We were never meant to take part in this election, and in all likelihood the MEPs sent to Brussels won’t be there for very long. It feels like a consequence-free opportunity to take a swing at established, mainstream politics.

However bad the local elections are, the European vote will be worse. The Brexit Party is sitting out this week, as is Change UK. UKIP is contesting fewer than one-in-five of the seats up for grabs.

But come May 23rd all will be there, with a full slate of candidates, offering a home for disgruntled voters, whatever direction their anger takes.

The Conservatives could record their worst performance in a UK-wide poll in nearly 200 years.

But let’s not forget Labour

The opposition’s “creative ambiguity” on Brexit surely can’t last much longer. It seems Jeremy Corbyn, and those around him, want to see Brexit delivered without ever actually being blamed for it. Others, centred on Tom Watson, want to reverse the whole process through a second referendum.

For months, the leadership has pretended to theoretically support such a vote, while doing nothing that would actually bring it any closer.

This row is coming to a head, and not just inside the party.

It’s true that many of Labour’s target seats in any General Election are in leave-voting areas, and many of its most vulnerable seats backed Brexit too.

But Labour also depends on truckloads of votes in remain-backing areas, not least in London. The activists who cheered Mr Corbyn into office can’t really understand why he’s not as enthusiastic for the EU as they are. 

If Labour doesn’t explicitly support a second referendum, many of its natural supporters could give their votes to the Lib Dems, Greens or Change UK. If the party does back a vote, it could lose ground in the very areas it needs if it’s to get into government.

Neither option is easy. But politics is supposed to be about making decisions, something Labour’s been shirking for a very long time when it comes to Brexit.