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Local Elections 2024: A Crucial Test for Starmer’s Labour and Sunak’s Tories – Who Will Emerge Victorious?

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How can we interpret the outcomes of victory or defeat for the Conservatives and Labour in the local elections?

Analysts have determined the National Equivalent Vote (NEV) share, a tool that extrapolates the results of local council elections into a national vote percentage. This measure helps to assess whether Labour is achieving the vote share necessary to win a general election.

Politics Editor: Beth Rigby (@BethRigby)

Wednesday, May 1, 2024, 10:

Three years have elapsed since the last contest for the 2,600 council seats that are available this week, and Sir Keir Starmer finds himself in a markedly different position as he approaches the day of the vote.

In 2021, as Boris Johnson's popularity was on the rise, Sir Keir Starmer faced significant setbacks when he lost the Hartlepool by-election, numerous council seats, and several local councils.

During his last campaign event in Harlow, Essex—a key location where Labour aims to seize control of the local council from the Conservatives and reclaim the parliamentary seat in the upcoming general election—Sir Keir admitted to me that he faced a "low point." He revealed for the first time that he thought about resigning as disappointing election results rolled in and the Johnson inflatable blimp soared above Hartlepool.

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He admitted, "I thought about stepping down since I believed it wasn't right for me to overshadow the party, and if I was incapable of driving the change, maybe it was time for a change to happen."

"After giving it considerable thought and consulting with numerous individuals, I ultimately reaffirmed my commitment, convinced that transforming the Labour Party is essential."

Sir Keir expressed that he felt justified in his choice to remain in his position, stating, "because we are now a transformed party, and that's undisputed."

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Rishi Sunak hasn't dismissed the possibility of a general election in July, emphasizing that voters will have a definite decision to make when it occurs.

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He's focusing on the theme of change, trying out his campaign messages on national elections while engaging with supporters who are rallying behind him and his deputy Angela Rayner in Harlow.

When questioned about whether he's experiencing any stress, he expresses his enthusiasm about it being an election year and his eagerness to proceed.

Yet, the leader of the Labour Party is clearly under pressure from high expectations.

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According to the consolidated polls from Sky News, Labour leads by twenty points. With the local elections approaching, the focus is on Labour's performance, particularly in key constituencies. Sir Keir Starmer is aware that significant strides are necessary in these areas if he hopes to prevail in the forthcoming general election.

These areas include Harlow, Milton Keynes, both the West and East Midlands, Teeside, as well as Yorkshire and Humber.

Labour aims to advance progress across every region of England.

When questioned about his definition of success, Sir Keir avoided specifying how many council seats or mayoralties he aimed to secure by the conclusion of the vote counts. He stated that his goal was simply for his party to "demonstrate progress."

"He emphasized the need for demonstrating that the public has faith and confidence in voting for this transformed Labour Party, underscoring the importance of showing progress."

"Polls aren't indicators of what's to come, nor do they transform the nation, yet I'll be keeping an eye on them for the advancements they reveal. This is crucial not only for local and mayoral elections but also for the narrative they create about the necessary shifts for the upcoming national election."

This is why these local elections are incredibly important, representing the last major electoral challenge before the next general election.

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Approximately 28 million individuals in England and Wales are eligible to vote today for various positions including councillors, mayors, members of the London Assembly, and police and crime commissioners. The Labour Party is treating today’s elections as a rehearsal for the upcoming general election, honing their strategies, directing their financial resources, and concentrating efforts in key local areas critical for a general election triumph.

As the election day approaches, much focus has been on the potential implications for the Conservative Party's leadership stability. However, what might be of greater significance to the electorate is how these election outcomes could reflect the likelihood of Labour forming a majority government in the future.

Sir Keir may be reluctant to specify figures for their considerations, yet here at Sky News, we are committed to doing just that.

To assist in determining if Labour is on track to secure a majority in the upcoming general election, election specialists Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher will compute the National Equivalent Vote share.

This analysis extrapolates the outcomes of local council elections to estimate the national vote share, indicating whether Labour is achieving the support necessary to win a general election.

It's clear that achieving an absolute majority is an unprecedented feat, especially challenging due to boundary adjustments that have favored the Conservatives, effectively granting them a theoretical 94-seat majority compared to the 80-seat majority Mr. Johnson achieved in 2019.

Coverage of local elections: Streaming options on Sky News, television viewing, and online tracking

The Labour Party requires a significant national swing of 12.7% to secure a majority.

This surpasses the 10.2% national swing Tony Blair achieved in 1997, which secured him a substantial majority. However, Labour views this figure differently today due to its altered fortunes in Scotland since 2019, when the party only secured one seat compared to the 20-plus seats anticipated in the current context. Consequently, they are aiming for a less pronounced swing across the country.

In the previous local elections, the Labour Party captured crucial areas from the Conservatives, yet based on the National Equivalent Vote, Starmer is still distant from securing a majority in the upcoming general election unless there is a significant shift toward his party.

According to an evaluation of local council by-election results over the previous year by Sky News's Professor Michael Thrasher, it is projected that Labour's vote percentage on May 2 will range from 36% to 38%, while the Conservatives are predicted to secure between 28% to 30%. The question now is whether Starmer's Labour can surpass its performance from the previous year.

Stay updated on the most recent developments in the UK and globally by tuning into Sky News.

The pressing issues at hand are whether Rishi Sunak's Conservative Party is facing inevitable defeat and if the Labour Party is poised to secure a majority. According to political analysts Rallings and Thrasher, the crucial metric to watch is whether the Conservative Party's Net Electoral Vote (NEV) falls below 30% while Labour advances towards 40% or higher.

To gauge its performance relative to that of Blair before the 1997 elections, consider the local elections results: in 1995, Labour secured a national equivalent vote (NEV) of 47%, and in 1996, the NEV was 43%.

"Back then, Labour was securing victories in both seats and councils throughout the southern regions of England, setting the stage for what would become its unprecedented triumph," Professor Thrasher notes.

Labour insiders emphasize that the current NEV shares are extraordinarily high, noting the increasing difficulty in achieving such figures. In 1995, "other" parties captured 5% of the NEV, a figure that has risen to 17% by 2023.

It should be noted that in 2021, when Johnson was at the peak of his popularity, the Conservatives achieved a 40% NEV. However, as Professor Thrasher indicates, given the proximity to a general election, it's crucial for Labour to convince the electorate that they are the most viable option to replace the Conservatives.

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Labour insiders have indicated that their attention is more on securing victories across the country rather than concentrating solely on the North East of England, a point Sir Keir emphasized during his Wednesday visit to Harlow.

Labour strategists are focusing on their performance in crucial swing districts to determine if they are gaining traction in the critical zones of the general election. Sources reveal that their strategy isn't about maximizing overall voter share, but rather channeling efforts and resources into competitive regions instead of solidifying support in traditionally safe Labour strongholds, like Manchester or Liverpool.

A Labour insider emphasized, "Securing victories in England's marginal constituencies is our key measure."

In pursuit of this goal, the mayoral race in the East Midlands holds significant importance for the Labour Party, as it encompasses a range of constituencies crucial for their success in the upcoming general election, including Derby North, Mansfield, Ashfield, Erewash, and Bassetlaw.

In the Northeast, they aim to reduce the substantial advantage held by Conservative Tees Valley Mayor Lord Ben Houchen, providing an indicator of their potential direction in constituencies such as Hartlepool, Darlington, Redcar, and Stockton.

In the West Midlands, there is a drive to reclaim seats in areas like Dudley, Sandwell, and Wolverhampton.

In Redditch, located 15 miles south of Birmingham, a significant battle is unfolding with the Conservative Party holding a presumed majority of 38.8%. Labour strategists contend that a victory in this area would signal their potential to secure a majority in the upcoming national elections.

A Labour source highlighted the strategic importance of Redditch, a town in the West Midlands, stating, "Redditch represents the ai-allcreator.com">kind of constituency we aim to capture." The insider added, "Securing victory there is our primary focus, rather than the specific percentage of the vote. In a general election, both Labour and the Conservatives are likely to increase their vote shares in this seat."

However, these key areas of contention extend far beyond just those Red Wall regions. Labour aims to gain traction nationwide.

Harlow is a key indicator, as for the last four decades, the party that has claimed this parliamentary seat has consistently been the one to secure victory.

In 1997, Blair captured Harlow with a 13.6% swing, whereas in 2019, the Conservatives secured the largest majority ever recorded for any party in Harlow.

Keep an eye on Thurrock and Basildon in the East, as well as Milton Keynes and Rushmoor in the South East, plus Swindon and Plymouth in the South West.

What would be considered a strong performance for Labour in terms of seat gains? According to Professor Michael Thrasher, while an increase of 350 seats would align with the results from the previous year's local elections, it wouldn't reach the high-water marks of the Blair years, nor would it likely achieve a 40% National Equivalent Vote (NEV) share. Essentially, the focus is on whether Labour can secure significantly more than 400 seats.

Falling short of 200 seats would indicate that the party did not meet expectations based on polls. If they gain 100 seats, it will be Starmer who is struggling, not Sunak.

If the Conservative Party were to suffer a loss of approximately 500 seats from the almost 1,000 it is currently defending, and if it also fails to retain the mayoral positions in Tees Valley or West Midlands, or to secure a victory in the East Midlands, then they would face significant challenges. Such outcomes would decisively dash any lingering hopes of a rebound before the upcoming general election.

The future events remain highly uncertain, as the prime minister could potentially face a no-confidence vote and might even opt to call an election during the summer.

Municipal Elections 2024: A Comprehensive Guide

Professor Michael Thrasher suggests that if the Conservatives lose 250 seats and manage to win one of the three mayoral contests—with the West Midlands race still undecided and Conservative Mayor Ben Houchen slightly leading in Tees Valley—it would indicate a significant decline from their 2021 performance under Boris Johnson. However, it would also suggest that they are more competitive with Labour than current polls indicate. A loss of 100 seats would be considered a substantial victory.

On Wednesday, Sir Keir acknowledged that wresting the Tees Valley mayoral chain from Ben Hounchen, who previously defeated Labour by 46 points, might be an overly ambitious goal.

He expressed his desire to wrest the West Midlands mayoralty from the Conservatives, describing the contest as extremely close.

The Labour Party is focused on securing the mayoralty of the East Midlands, a region currently without a mayor, viewing it as a crucial step towards gaining the majority needed to win a general election.

Explore further: A breakdown in confidence poses challenges for authorities. Predictions on how crucial locations will cast their votes this Thursday.

Regarding the Liberal Democrats, securing 150 additional seats and taking charge of a few councils will emphasize their challenge to the Conservatives. Keep an eye on how Ed Davey's group performs in places like Gloucester, Dorset, Portsmouth, Wokingham, and Elmbridge. Conversely, an increase of only 50 seats would signify a disappointing outcome for them.

As a concluding remark, keep an eye on an interesting trend while considering the national vote percentages and shifts: the emergence of minor parties in a nation that appears to be distancing itself from the Conservatives, yet remains somewhat skeptical of Starmer.

If the nation concludes that the Conservative Party is not the suitable option, does that automatically mean the Labour Party gains, or will these local elections reveal a significant number of voters rejecting both major parties?

Major political groups will likely make the rounds on television talk shows, claiming that voters will approach general elections with a different mindset. However, if smaller parties and independents perform well, there will be growing speculation that Starmer has yet to clinch widespread support.

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