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Coffee House

The other awkward May elections and why they matter

3 April 2014

4:06 PM

3 April 2014

4:06 PM

After all the excitement of Nick vs Nigel and the endless mutterings in the Tory party about uprisings following the European elections, you might be forgiven for thinking that the European elections are the only game in town in May. But there are 4,161 local council seats up for election on the same day – and the main parties are quite keen to make big efforts to secure a good result in those polls.

The Conservatives have been holding campaign days in London, where many of the seats up for election are located, and making those local council seats a focus for the parliamentary party, which descends on different areas to canvass and deliver leaflets on set days. The whips hold their campaign days on Tuesdays and take a band of MPs along with them. There are a number of reasons for this focus: the party wants a strong enough showing in the local elections that it can reassure activists that things are going to be OK in 2015. The general election will also be easier if there are more councillors around to canvass and stuff leaflets through the doors, and so getting more elected, particularly in key marginal London seats such as Hampstead and Kilburn, will help that fight. MEPs are less useful in that respect. The results of these polls are announced before the results of the European elections, which means they will get a fair amount of attention.

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I’ve previously reported that some Conservative groups plan to tell would-be Ukip voters that they might as well go ahead and have their naughty moment at the ballot box for the European elections, but that it would be brilliant if they could still vote Tory in the locals. That is of course not an official strategy but it fits with the party’s focus on the local seats. Labour, meanwhile, is beefing up its response to Ukip, but some MPs worry that there is still not a proper strategy for local Labour parties to fight Ukip in their areas. A good showing for Ukip against Labour in this year’s local elections could demoralise the party, some Labourites privately fear.

As for other campaigning, Tory MPs have been told that they are welcome to come and lend a hand in run-up to the Scottish independence referendum, and that Labour MPs in Scotland are very happy for them to do so as well. This sounds like a statement of the obvious as Conservatives should be able to campaign on such a big issue, but it’s significant that there was a discussion at all about it. It suggests nerves about the toxicity of the Tory brand. Indeed, I hear that those Conservatives who do plan to travel across the border in the next few months have been advised that making a big thing of being a Tory might not be the best idea.

P.S. I also wonder whether the predicted uprising after the Europeans is being a little overstated in some quarters. Anyone who moves against Cameron after even a very bad result will look a fool and the party is currently in reasonable enough shape that only a few MPs would consider supporting such a move, leaving the majority to laugh them down. Certain troublemakers have also given undertakings that they won’t try to cause the same sort of trouble around the Queen’s Speech as they did last year. What will be more important will be the little messages that the Prime Minister sends out in the reshuffle by promoting key eurosceptic MPs, a few policy goodies for the Conservative Right in that Queen’s Speech, and a continuing trickle of announcements that suggest his work on European reform is bearing fruit.

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