We’ve been looking at what a good night might be for the four main parties in this week’s local elections. Yesterday was the turn of the Lib Dems and before that the Greens. Today we’re putting the Conservatives under the spotlight.
Nationally, the Conservatives will indisputably be under the most pressure at this set of local elections. The poll will doubtless be seen as a referendum on a number of issues, from partygate and the cost of living crisis, to the war in Ukraine.
However, the situation in Yorkshire may be somewhat different. The party is only in administration in one of the nine councils up for election this year, North Yorkshire, and there is little possibility of them falling out of power there.
Indeed, most of the councillors elected in 2018, and up for re-election now, are in wards made ever safer since that election. While a disaster night may feature more considerable Conservative losses in other areas, it is unlikely that the party will lose many councillors in Yorkshire.
A bad night would still have long-term consequences for the party though. A diminished councillor base in the region could dent their chances of holding onto ‘red wall’ seats, and of undermining Labour administrations locally.
Unlike with the Lib Dems and Greens previously, I will outline four scenarios for the Conservatives: good, bad, great, and disaster. Although a dramatic result seems unlikely, as we have learned from the past year, anything can happen in politics!
With that in mind, what would a good night be for Yorkshire Conservatives?
Theory of change
The Conservatives’ theory of change will more be a theory of staying the same. Both the 2019 general election and the 2021 locals represented historic results, and replicating these would well set the path for Conservative government nationally, and an ever-deepening ‘blue moat’ outside of metropolitan centres.
Most current polling sees the Conservatives losing ‘red wall’ seats like Calder Valley, Dewsbury, and Keighley, all of which have local elections this year. Staffers in CCHQ will be paying a keen eye to these areas, to see if the local trends are matching up with national polling.
Locally, Conservatives may well be working towards securing administrations in councils that are currently marginal, like Kirklees and Calderdale. Not only would Conservative administrations mean a larger base of councillors ready for a parliamentary promotion, but it would help ease relationships between central and local government, and even see more money coming in from Westminster pots like the levelling up fund.
A strong showing in North Yorkshire
The new North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) will surely be the main prize for the Conservatives. By my count, even on a bad night, 50 of the 89 new seats on the council are safe, meaning that the Tories have at least a five-seat majority. In addition, several wards have split votes between independents, Liberal Democrats, and Labour councillors, and the Conservatives could easily come through the middle to win extra seats.
It’s impossible to say how strong the Conservatives’ majority will be at this stage, but a victory in North Yorkshire will likely be a standout win in what might otherwise be a disappointing night.
West Yorkshire battlegrounds
Last year, the Conservatives won the most seats to Calderdale Council. If they were to repeat this success this year, they would be within a seat of undoing Labour’s majority.
Similarly, even small advances in Kirklees could see the Tories coming within reach of minority administration on the council.
That said, the Conservatives will certainly be vulnerable in a number of wards. Kirkless’ Denby Dale and Holme Valley South are held by Tory councillors, and could be lost with a two and four percent swings to Labour respectively.
With the Tories unpopular nationally, what could be an opportunity to seriously threaten Labour at a local level seems to be unlikely to transpire. That said, no-one should count the Conservatives out just yet.
All eyes on Wakefield
With a Wakefield by-election imminent after the local elections, how the Conservatives perform in the six wards in the constituency will be a key indicator of how the by-election might turn out.
While Labour’s hold on Wakefield council may be strong, decent showings in Ossett and in Wakefield Rural, both of which the party won in 2018, could presage a successful defence.
Interesting to watch will be Horbury and South Ossett, which the Tories won in 2018 but Labour won in 2021, and Wakefield East, which had the opposite result. Either party could well win both, and with them the status of favourites for the coming by-election.
So, what would be a good night for the Conservatives?
For this, I have separated out North Yorkshire County Council from the rest of the predictions. Given that it is likely to feature a majority of their elected councillors, and that the council will be so difficult to predict, including it in the ‘main results’ would doubtless skew the scenarios.
- A disaster for the party would see only 21 councillors elected outside of North Yorkshire, mostly in very safe seats with majorities of 15 percent or more, and a narrow majority on NYCC.
- A bad night for the party would see 27 councillors elected outside of NYCC, a notable decrease from 2021 and featuring a few losses from the 2018 cohort up for re-election. This would also see a firm majority on NYCC, but with the party losing most marginal elections.
- A good night for the Conservatives would see the party solidifying the gains they made in 2021 (and the occasional advance), with 51 councillors elected outside of NYCC, and a strong majority on NYCC.
- A great night for the Tories would see 72 councillors elected outside of NYCC, and a similar majority on NYCC to the one they currently possess.
Tomorrow, we turn our eye to Labour. In the flip position to the Conservatives, with the most to gain nationally, but the most to lose locally, breaking down what a good night will be for them will be a very different situation indeed.