Margaret Thatcher declared, on the night of the Conservatives General Election victory in 1987:
“We must do something about those inner cities, because we want them too.”
Yet in electoral terms the Conservatives find the challenge has become not just the “inner cities” but entire metropolises.
Broadly speaking, the Conservatives perform much more strongly in our towns and villages. Much of the territory outside the cities is covered at an “upper tier” level by county councils and at a “lower tier” by the district councils. The Conservatives dominate in both types of authority. In some counties there are unitary authorities in place and here the Conservatives also tend to be strong – Cheshire, Shropshire and Wiltshire.
The local elections this year are mainly about the cities, in other words, Labour territory. While a handful of “metropolitan boroughs” have all their seats up for election – notably Birmingham, which I wrote about earlier – most have a third of their seats up for election. In several there is no possibility of the Conservatives losing any seats – since we don’t have any. This dire state of affairs applies in Gateshead, Knowsley, Liverpool, Sandwell, Sheffield and South Tyneside.
Only a couple are Conservative councils. Solihull has a big Conservative majority and so is not at risk.
That leaves Trafford which has 34 Conservative councillors with 26 for Labour and three for the Lib Dems. Its high profile was confirmed by Jeremy Corbyn going there to launch Labour’s national campaign for the council elections. The contest is particularly important as the Council not only has a Conservative label but has applied distinctively Conservative policies. That is how it provides excellent services while setting the lowest Council Tax in the north west. Its leader, Cllr Sean Anstee, set out his stall for us on this site last month.
It is not the only close contest, of course. Calderdale, Dudley, and Kirklees each have minority Labour administrations. There is also Walsall which is run as a Labour/Lib Dem coalition. If Labour fail to achieve the modest goal of winning overall control in all of them it will be harder for Jeremy Corbyn to claim he is on his way to Downing Street.
But the result in Trafford will be hard to spin. The Conservatives have held it since 2004 – losing it would be a blow. But for the Conservatives to retain it would mean that Labour will be struggling to show that under Corbyn’s leadership they are capable of advancing outside London.