Brandon Lewis is Chairman of the Conservative Party, and is MP for Great Yarmouth.
We went into these local elections expecting a tough fight – and that’s what we got. We saw many good and hardworking councillors lose their seats despite wins in Walsall, North East Lincolnshire and for the first-time ever, North East Derbyshire.
There’s no denying these have been challenging elections for us. I know how much effort has been put into this campaign on the ground. Over the past few months, I’ve seen first hand how hard members, activists, candidates and councillors have been working to get as many Conservative councillors in charge of local services as possible.
In the last week alone, I joined activists across the country from Swindon to South Gloucestershire delivering leaflets and knocking on doors, and saw this commitment up close.
As the governing party, and after nine years in government, we expected the campaign to be difficult – to put this into perspective, after the same number of years in government, Labour had lost over 4,400 councillors. We were also fighting them off a high water mark of the 2015 general election, when we gained six in ten seats and 32 councils.
Local elections give residents the chance to choose a council to deliver high-quality local services and lower council taxes. Conservatives do this consistently but, sadly, the politics of Westminster overshadowed the debate and voters have sent us a clear message at the ballot box – get on and deliver Brexit.
The Conservative Party was always going to take its share of blame from voters for Brexit delays and general frustration with Westminster, but I am sad that talented Conservative councillors who worked hard to deliver for their communities did not see their dedication and commitment rewarded.
The Liberal Democrats clearly had successes, but it is hardly surprising that they increased their number of councillors after falling to a 40-year record low in 2015.
The real surprise of the night was how badly Labour when they were put to the electoral test. It is staggering that with the governing party sustaining many losses nearly a decade into government, the main Opposition made net losses too. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party had predicted significant gains across the country, but they failed spectacularly, particularly in the key target seats they expected to win, such as Dudley, Swindon and Thurrock, and even lost seats in Bolton and in Stoke, where they launched their local election campaigns. At the same point in the electoral cycle, in 2012, Ed Miliband’s Labour Party gained over 500 council seats.
John McDonnell was predicting they would gain 400 seats at the beginning of the night, but within hours they had lost control of councils in strongholds such as Bolsover to Burnley, and were beaten back in Barnsley and Blackburn. In Labour’s heartlands, their own MPs and deflated council leaders angrily blamed the party’s refusal to rule out a second referendum and commit to Brexit for their failure. These elections will undoubtedly lead to some tough questions for Labour’s leadership.
But the one thing that the results of these local elections makes clear is the frustration people feel with politicians for failing to deliver Brexit.
I am determined that we honour our manifesto commitment to deliver on the referendum. Now is the time to listen to these results, come together and get Brexit done.
So the message is clear. If we work together and deliver Brexit we will be able to build on our record of success both in local and national government – delivering nine years of economic growth, the strongest wage growth for a decade and providing the biggest cash boost for the NHS in its history whilst delivering better local services and lower taxes – so the Conservative party is ready for the fight at the next local elections.