Tories clean up in local elections

Theresa May’s Conservatives appear set for “a very substantial victory” on 8 June following gains in council elections.


Theresa May: mistress of all she surveys
(Image credit: Copyright (c) 2017 Rex Features. No use without permission.)

Theresa May's Conservatives appear set for "a very substantial victory" on 8 June, says The Guardian. Government parties "normally do badly" in midterm local elections, but on 4 May the Conservatives finished 11% ahead of Labour. They gained more than 500 seats, "making potentially very important inroads against the SNP in Scotland", and capped their evening with Andy Street's victory in the West Midlands metro-mayoral contest. Ukip was almost wiped out, reduced to only one council seat. Overall, "the combination of Tory ascendancy on the right" and "Labour eclipse on the left", points "to a big Tory win in June".

Labour's big losses don't bode at all well, agrees Stephen Bush in The New Statesman. However, the Lib Dems' performance was arguably worse than Labour's. They actually came third in Bath, a seat they held until 2015 and hope to take back in June. They also lost ground in Cornwall and made no inroads in Cheltenham. The upshot? "They will do well not to end up with eight seats again." In Scotland, meanwhile, the SNP's 32% is "a long way short of the 50% that the party won in 2015 and which they will need to [achieve if they are] to hang on to most of their 56 Westminster seats in June", says John Curtice in The Scotsman. And "it was sharply down in many of its traditional strongholds in the northeast". As a result, many "senior SNP MPs" have "a fight on their hands".

Ukip's meltdown has led to claims that the Conservatives have "shot Ukip's fox", notes Matthew Parris in The Times, but don't be so sure. Not only have they succeeded in their aim to push Britain out of the EU, but they are now being "invited to join the Tory hunt and carry on under a blue banner rather than their old purple and yellow one". Many centrist Tories feel that "our part of the party is in retreat". More broadly, "a politics composed of one enormous party on the right, one shell of a party on the left and a few Liberal Democrats who aren't serious about government is not a stable state".

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"The Tories look to be the party of power for the foreseeable future across Britain," agrees the FT. Meanwhile, the decline of Ukip suggests that the PM is reuniting the right. However, the elections also show that "the old divide of left v right no longer explains how British voters think". Instead, "globalist v anti-globalist sentiment occupies voters' minds, encapsulated by Brexit". Until either Labour or the Lib Dems comes up with an effective counter, "May will be mistress of all she surveys".

May's price-cap ruse is a bad idea

At the last election energy price caps were "ridiculed as a throwback to 1970s socialism" notes the FT. Now Theresa May promises to cap power prices for two-thirds of British households if she wins next month. Bad idea. "Regulators are not best placed to determine the right level." Too low, and "companies will struggle to make the investments in the National Grid, power generation and storage that are needed to tackle climate change and keep the lights on". Too high, and companies could end up hiking prices in order to "converge on it". She should "exhaust other options before giving up oncompetition".

Rhetoric about "rip-off" prices will go down well in Labour Midlands and northern seats the Tories are targeting, notes Philip Johnston in The Daily Telegraph. But the price cap is just one more example of her "dirigiste" approach. She may yet revive plans for more worker involvement in the boardroom. She also favours "defending British industry from foreign takeover". But such policies "have not been fully debated inside the party". So the PM "risks a confrontation with free-market Conservatives".

May should be clearer about what she is going to do on several other issues, adds The Times. These include the deficit, which "risks being the big unmentioned issue of the campaign". She also needs to come clean on pensions ("the triple lock is unsustainable"). While the local results suggest that "election night will be wonderful for Tories", it "won't be too long before it starts to rain", so she "should fix the roof while the sun is shining".

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri