Lord Porter is the Chairman of the Local Government Association.
Over the past eight years, Conservatives in local government have broken one of the golden rules of British politics – one that certainly held true for us in the early to mid-nineties and then for Labour from 1997 onwards – namely that the party in power nationally will inevitably see its local government base dramatically reduced.
Indeed, we went into May’s local elections with 2,500 more councillors and control of 95 more councils than Labour, with the Lib Dems trailing far behind on both measures.
However, that run came to a dramatic end with a net loss of 1,330 council seats and 44 councils. Through no fault of their own, hundreds of councillors who were tireless and effective champions for their local communities lost their seats.
I would like to express my commiserations to all those who lost their seats, and in particular to those leaders who have been involved with the LGA: Cllr Tim Warren (Bath and North East Somerset Council); Cllr Gillian Brown (Arun District Council); Cllr Janet Walton (Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council); and Cllr Harvey Siggs (Mendip District Council).
Having had some time to digest the results, I think that there are three key lessons.
Firstly, anyone who spent time on the doorstep will have been aware of the anger about the Parliamentary deadlock over Brexit. Whatever your views on Brexit, it is clear that the impasse can only be resolved in Westminster, and that a failure to do so will lead to more voter frustration and electoral pain for the Conservative Party.
Secondly, although Brexit was the single biggest source of voter discontent, controversies over planning and development were also a key reason for our losses in a number of areas.
This poses a particular challenge, since whilst supporting significant housing developments can alienate some of our core supporters, it is accepted that our poor performance amongst younger middle-aged voters at the last General Election was due to their frustration at not being able to get on the housing ladder. The Government has committed to building 300,000 new homes by the mid-2020s, and Conservative councils are integral to the development of this. But in order to do this with public consent, the Government must make sure that the money is available to provide the infrastructure needed to make this sustainable.
Ironically, those who are the loudest at objecting to development in the immediate vicinity of their own homes are often the same people who are concerned that their children and grandchildren are still living in rented accomodation in their forties. Electorally, we cannot afford to alienate either of these groups, but getting local support for large-scale development is increasingly difficult.
Thirdly, whilst the results overall were disappointing, and particularly so against the Lib Dems and Independents, we had some notable successes against Labour, including taking control of North East Derbyshire, North East Lincolnshire and Walsall councils, as well as winning seats from them on a number of other councils.
Labour have now recorded a net loss of over 400 council seats under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership – a truly appalling record for the main opposition party. Their net loss of 84 seats in these elections demonstrates that Brexit is also causing them pain, and that Mr Corbyn is no longer the electoral asset that he appeared to be at the last general election.
To end on a positive note, the Conservatives remain the largest political group at the LGA (by 0.8 per cent) and therefore, as my four year term as LGA Chairman comes to an end, I am delighted to confirm that my successor will be a Conservative.