5 May 2024

Weekly Briefing: The Tories’ day of reckoning


Are you based in London and a racist, white supremacist or Islamophobe? If so, you probably voted for Susan Hall in last week’s London mayoral election. Well, that’s according to Wes Streeting, anyway.

If you wanted evidence that Labour weren’t 100% confident of yesterday’s result, then the Shadow Health Secretary’s desperate attempt to besmirch the Tory hopeful was it.

But it turns out they needn’t have worried. The results are in and (drumroll please) the good folk of London have voted in Sadiq Khan’s favour. With 44% of the vote, compared to Hall’s 33%, the former lawyer from Earlsfield has won a comfortable third term as London Mayor. This will certainly prove the cherry on top for Labour, who have had an excellent run in this round of local elections.

In addition to taking the London mayoralty, Labour have secured the mayoralties of Liverpool, York and North Yorkshire, the North East, the East Midlands, the West Midlands and Greater Manchester. They’ve also gained more than 170 council seats. Meanwhile, the Tories lost over 450 councillors and only returned 508 overall, less than the Liberal Democrats.

Labour also proved victorious in the Blackpool South by-election, with their candidate Chris Webb managing a sizeable swing of 26.3%. Also, having won by 7,607 votes, he demolished the Tories’ 2019 majority of 3,690. Adding further insult to injury, the Conservative candidate only beat the Reform UK candidate by 117 votes.

Clearly, these were not the results the Tories had wished for. However, there were some glimmers of hope.

Take Ben Houchen’s victory in the Tees Valley mayoral race. Houchen, who will now remain in his post for a third term, won with 53.6% of the vote, compared to his Labour rival Chris McEwan’s 41.3%. What was striking about Houchen’s campaign is that, tonally, it was almost the complete inverse of the Tory campaign in London. Rather than adopt the monochromatic attack ads of Hall’s campaign, in Tees Valley, Houchen focused on the tangible positive difference he had made to people’s lives. Notably through saving Teeside International Airport and boosting local growth by transforming a former steelworks into a 4,500 acre development site.

While Rishi Sunak will no doubt cling to Houchen’s victory and his party’s retention of Harlow council as evidence that his party still has a fighting chance come the general election, it looks increasingly doubtful that many will be convinced. Although the Prime Minister was present at Houchen’s victory speech, he was snubbed. The Tees Valley Mayor thanked his voters for ‘backing his plan’, but did so without mentioning his party or the Prime Minister once, and didn’t even wear a blue Conservative rosette.

But rather than take offense from this, there are constructive lessons to be learned. While the results of the last couple of days bode terribly for the Tories’ chances in the next general election, depending on when it’s called, Sunak still has some months to pull together an effective campaign. And when doing so, the party could do far worse than look at Houchen’s victory in Tees Valley and compare it to what didn’t work in London.

In a time of domestic economic strife and global political upheaval, people want reasons to be cheerful – that means concrete plans for vital development, a clear economic strategy for driving growth and investment, and ensuring that Britain is as secure as possible to weather what has already been a turbulent decade. What it does not mean (as demonstrated in London) is running a poorly resourced campaign in the vain hope that voters regard you as the least worst option.

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Joseph Dinnage is Deputy Editor of CapX.