I am far from someone who makes a habit of complaining about the machinations of the Murdoch press swaying elections. But yesterday, Sky News made a projection based on the local election results which have the Tories ending up with 349 seats and Labour 215. In other words, the Conservatives will supposedly take less than 20 seats from Labour and end up with a majority of less than 50 after June 8th. On this projection, they would also take almost none off the SNP, despite an incredible Tory showing in Scotland on Thursday, which was at the expense of Labour partly, but that bit was expected; keeping the SNP to no net gains while hundreds of Labour seats fell was the extraordinary part. But according to Sky, this will have zero effect on the general election result.
The reason for such a projection I can have a stab at: there is a worry at this stage that the landslide narrative sets in, causing apathy and low turnout and even possibly backlash against the Tories on a limited (but nonetheless notable enough) way. The right of centre portions of the press are very eager to talk about how all is still to play for; how Jeremy Corbyn could still be prime minister. But what did the results yesterday actually tell us about what to expect on June 8th?
The Conservatives, a party that has been in government for seven years, gained a whopping 563 seats, while all of their rivals suffered badly. Labour were expected to lose seats – just not an eye-watering 382 of them. The Lib Dems had been expected to gain seats, perhaps even a hundred – they lost 42. The SNP lost seven seats, remarkable considering Labour’s collapse and the fact that the last time the locals were held in Scotland was pre-Indy Ref. The cherry on top is, of course, UKIP: losing every seat they were defending and managing to gain just one. And it was from Labour in the North West.
The scale of this is hard to exaggerate; wins of this magnitude and clear cut nature are very rare in British politics. Which is why Thursday told us that the Conservatives are going to win massively on general election day – whatever the pundits of the right and the left (who are conveniently singing the same tune) have to say on the subject.
In the 1983 local elections, the Tories gained 110 seats, while Labour gained only 3. The national share of the vote separating them in those locals was three points, 39-36. At the general election held a few weeks later (sound familiar?) the Tories crushed Labour by 15 points. So if past general elections held several weeks after locals in which the governing party picked up loads of seats is any indication of anything whatsoever, the Tories will romp home by 23 points on June 8th and end up with a majority north of 200.
Taking anything that specific from local elections as a means of understanding what exactly will happen in a general election is flawed; it is better to look at what Thursday’s elections tell us about national mood and direction of political travel and go from there. Beyond the local election results, the Conservatives also won the mayoral contests in the West Midlands and even more amazingly, Tees Valley. Significantly, both are areas in which the Westminster seats are currently dominated by the Labour Party; methinks not for much longer. The UKIP vote collapsed and went massively to the Tories; there is no reason to think this won’t happen in the GE. In fact, UKIPers are much more likely to vote Tory in a few weeks time when the national picture is at stake.
Everything rational points to a Tory landslide on June 8th, one in which Labour are crushed in Wales, the North East of England and throughout the Midlands. Labour will almost certainly lose somewhere around 100 seats. The Lib Dem revival will not occur as some hoped and the Tories will take double figure numbers of seats in Scotland. The majority, I repeat now in earnest, is likely to be over 200. Disagree with me all you want; we’ll all know in a few scant weeks whether I’m correct or not.