I attended a press briefing on the forthcoming local elections at CCHQ this morning. It was given by one of my favourite Tory MPs – the straight-talking, no-nonsense Eric Pickles. Here are some of his key observations about the elections:
- They are, he said, ‘The Big One’. In addition to the Scottish and Welsh elections (about which he did not brief) these will be the biggest test of public opinion before the next European Elections (and probably the next General Election). Londoners are the only significant non-voting population.
- The Tories – the largest party in local government – are "defending a high base." The party is defending 4,345 councillors (52.4% of all our local government seats), Labour is defending 2,375 (45.9%) and the LibDems 2,422 (55.4%).
- Labour are at their lowest level since 1977 and further losses would be very serious. He discounted the likelihood of Labour becoming the third party of local government. [I don’t think that was just spin].
- Bedford, Mansfield and Middlesborough are directly-electing mayors.
- He predicted that the Tories will gain councillors, vote share and will increase their proportion of seats contested (83.4% four years ago).
- He would not predict gains in the deserts of Gateshead, Knowsley, Liverpool, Manchester or Newcastle but he did predict that there would be gains throughout Yorkshire, the North East and the North West (where the party is second overall).
- Election results will be much slower this year (largely unavailable until late on Friday) for three main reasons:
- Longer polling hours;
- New procedures to verify postal votes;
- Gershon savings that mean many councils will be counting on Friday rather than Thursday night (because of the lower cost of employing counting staff).
Related link: Last year’s local elections briefing