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It’s not clear senior Conservatives wanted a provincial base but after two rounds of local elections that’s what they’ve got. While affluent metropolitan and Southern voters peeled off to the Lib Dems, Midlands and Northern working-class voters stayed loyal.

Two important questions follow: how loyal is this working-class base and how should Conservatives maintain it? These will determine how long the party stays in power.

In truth, it doesn’t feel terribly loyal at this point. I’ve overseen dozens of groups across provincial England in the last few months – and ran groups for The Sunday Telegraph last weekend – and the erosion of the foundations of Conservative support amongst working class voters has been rapid.

A year ago, despite irritation with the specifics of Covid management, the Government’s fundamentals were strong: the vaccine roll-out was popular and so was furlough; Brexit delivery was at the forefront of people’s minds; and Labour were seen as irrelevant.

Ask these same voters for positives today and, as I found last week in Wakefield, only the vaccine roll-out is voluntarily mentioned. The Brexit divided has totally diminished and while furlough is by no means a negative, people believe costs and taxes are rising as we’re forced to reckon with debts incurred.

And, of course, these rising costs – while not directly blamed on Government – are coming to dominate everyone’s minds. People are bored witless about endless media stories about parties, but terrible damage has been wrought on the Government’s reputation for competence (once strong) and trustworthiness (always shaky).

What hasn’t really changed in this time is working-class attitudes to Labour. Wakefield’s Conservative voters (recent converts from Labour) saw Starmer as weak and unprincipled. This is commonly heard. And this wasn’t even vaguely about alleged partying; by mid-week, last week, these allegations hadn’t really cut through. Their thoughts reflected a sense (fairly or not) that he offered little on Covid other than opportunistic criticism, and that he hadn’t, and couldn’t, show leadership.

If Starmer is fined and resigns, massive pressure will be heaped on Boris Johnson; the PM will look like a “wrong-un” compared to a principled Labour leadership. If Starmer isn’t fined and stays, it’s possible working-class voters will look at him differently, but my sense is they’ll just think he behaved badly anyway and got away with it. It will take more to change working-class opinion.

However, change is possible and Conservatives ought to take the prospect more seriously. For all his problems with these voters, Starmer is intelligent, he’s acted bravely with internal political decisions (totally lost on most voters) and is trying to get the party to talk about mainstream issues like tax and crime. Even a few eye-catching policies on these areas – and levelling-up, which they bizarrely continue to ignore – and it’s a different world potentially.

What can the Conservatives do to shore up their provincial support? In short, reboot levelling-up and return to the policies that secured them support in the first place.

In classic political style, we have heard little from the Government on levelling-up since the White Paper. The Prime Minister spent a lot of time in the North in the local election campaign, but we’ve heard little about the Government’s plans.

Yes, implementation will ultimately deliver votes, but currently prospective Conservative voters know nothing of their party’s ambitions – and if they don’t know about their plans, the Government risks not reaping the benefits. The Government shouldn’t discount the possibility that credit from successful implementation goes to others: councils; local businesses; local charities; and so on.

Elsewhere, I have a bad feeling about the ultimate workability of border control policies. However, in addition, the Government should be looking at policies on anti-social behaviour, welfare reform (particularly contributory welfare), justice (particularly sentencing) and healthcare. It goes without saying that they ought to be exploring every possible option to keep costs down.

In February, I wrote here that “Johnson is still viable with the public if he is constantly compared to Starmer as the alternative. Starmer has a lead, but Johnson’s negatives aren’t as serious when a choice between the two is forced.”

Since then, Johnson’s relative position has declined and he has probably passed the point of no return with too many voters. However, the fundamental point remains: Johnson v Starmer is at least a competition; it’s just that another Conservative leader might do a lot better.