As Brexit tensions continue to simmer in the Conservative party, the May local elections look to be the next big danger point for Theresa May. MPs who are losing patience with the Prime Minister fear that any move now would be near impossible to justify to the public when the Tories remain neck-and-neck with Labour in the polls. The thinking goes that disappointing results in the local elections could provide the perfect cover to oust May from her position.
It’s true that disappointing results look likely. In London, the Tories expect a bloodbath, with elections analyst Lord Hayward predicting that the party could lose more than half of their London boroughs. In this vein, Jo Johnson – the minister for London – is expected to be appointed a political adviser to help with the workload. It doesn’t help proceedings that EU nationals will be able to vote – Tories are worried they may opt for a Brexit protest vote after May’s dithering on the rights of EU nationals. Grim results are also expected to be the order of the day in Birmingham.
But the optimists within the Conservative party can see a ray of light. This is that the expectations for the Tories are so low they only need to limit their losses and it will be seen as a ‘better than expected result’. As one CCHQ brain puts it, ‘it could be a horror show but then again if we don’t lose everything then the big story could be “why is Labour not doing better” rather than just Tory turmoil’.
They have a point. Firstly, the collapse of Ukip means that this portion of the vote could go to the Tories. Secondly, in London, Conservative campaigners think that the fact it is a Labour Mayor – Sadiq Khan – presiding over a rise in crime in the city helps their cause. And finally, if these factors did come together in the Tories’ favour, it’s easy to see how the big story could become ‘why is Labour not doing better?’. There’s been little in terms of expectation management from the party and given the daily shambles this Conservative government kindly provides, expectations ought to be very high.