England’s Local Elections 2022: Growing Divide “Tale Of Two England Cities” could swing to Labor While Tories Likely To Hold On In Towns

LONDON (May 2, 2022)—Experts say there are “two elections” at play, predicting big urban areas could swing to Labor due to the cost of living squeeze and the party-gate scandal; but Conservatives are more likely to hold on in towns, particularly in the North and the Midlands despite national headlines.

A growing divide is predicted at this week’s local elections, with Labour on course to make gains in cities in England but struggling to breakthrough in former industrial heartlands.

Experts say there are “two elections” at play, predicting big urban areas could swing to Labor due to the cost of living squeeze and the party-gate scandal; but Conservatives are more likely to hold on in towns, particularly in the North and the Midlands despite national headlines.

Sky News visited Wandsworth in southwest London, held by the Conservatives for 44 years but which could make a historic switch to Labor, and the town of Nuneaton in Warwickshire, where the council was seized by the Tories in a landslide last year, to speak to voters.

Around 40% of the council seats being contested this week are in London which will be a key test of Labor’s support under Sir Keir Starmer, and how much damage recent events have done to the government.

Conservative peer and polling expert Lord Hayward told Sky News a switch to Labour would have implications nationwide for both main parties.

“The contest there is party-gate versus low council tax,” he said.

“The loss of Wandsworth will impact the morale of the defeated party well beyond the boundaries of London and will have implications for the leadership of either party”.

If the Tories cannot hold it on their message of low taxes and effective services; and Labor can’t win it while ahead in the national polls – the message to the leadership will be stark.

The Conservatives also face challenges in the London boroughs of Barnet and Westminster, but Wandsworth is thought to be the closest.

Although Labor say they don’t expect to take Wandsworth this time, they won more votes there than the Conservatives when these seats were last fought in 2018, but fewer counsellor.  

‘Heating or eating’

On the ground, living costs were a key issue. Sky News visited a new baby bank opened by the Little Village charity, which provides essentials such as clothes, cots and buggies to new parents in need.

They expect to help more than 7,000 children referred to them this year, compared to 6,000 last year because the living standards squeeze is affecting so many families locally.

Volunteer Alice Duncan said many families were looking for warm snowsuits for babies to wear indoors, as they cannot afford to keep the heating on.

“Increasingly what I’ve noticed is that a lot of the referrals are people in work, perhaps not full-time work, but even though they are working they are finding that they can’t make ends meet,” she said.

Speaking to shoppers in nearby Clapham, Lesley, who works at a nursery, said she had seen “lots of families choosing what to spend their money on, heating or eating”.

Shakira, a software developer with a very young son, was angry about party-gate and had a message for the prime minister: “I had a baby during lockdown. I had to be inside the whole time while you were having the time of your life, and I can’t even get midwife services, I can’t access anything.”

A YouGov survey last week gave Labor a 27-point lead over the Tories – with a 50% share projected; 23% for the Conservatives, 12% for the Liberal Democrats and the Greens on 9%.

But that will not translate into the sort of big gains needed to win a general election if it is concentrated in cities and university towns. Studies over the past few years have pointed to an alienation of the traditional Labor vote in towns.

These local elections will be a test of whether other areas which recently turned to the Conservatives are holding firm despite Boris Johnson’s difficulties.

Realignment of politics

Will Jennings, professor of political science at the University of Southampton, says Nuneaton in North Warwickshire is a classic example of the realignment of politics accelerated by Brexit which Labor is now battling in other areas.

“We can expect two elections,” he said. “In older, Brexit-supporting, socially conservative towns, somewhat against the national tide, the government may hold on in more places than expected. Labor is likely to make gains in big cities, but they risk piling up votes there, and finding there are diminishing returns.”

Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough council, on the southern edge of the so-called “red wall”, was in Labor control for most of the last five decades.

But the Conservatives swept to power last year, taking 10 Labor seats. They now have 25 counsellors to Labor’s six.

Council leader Kris Wilson said party-gate had been mentioned as a turnoff by just two voters – and others had defended the prime minister. Mr. Wilson, whose grandfather was a miner in one of the area’s many collieries, gives a sense of the town’s changing loyalties.

“He would have turned in his grave if he knew I was a Tory, never mind a Tory leader of the council,” he said.

Mr. Wilson took over as leader in 2014, when the Conservatives had three counsellors

“It’s been a remarkable change in circumstances in a relatively short period of time,” he said.

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Source: Sky News wrote the original article.  Bee News Daily contributed.

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