Chris Moncrieff: Tories braced for a kicking in local polls

Theresa May is bracing herself for a local election reverse next month.
Theresa May is bracing herself for a local election reverse next month.
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THE Tories are already bracing themselves for some catastrophic results at next month’s local elections in a set of polls that could well provide the beleaguered Jeremy Corbyn with his biggest personal boost since he became leader of the Labour Party.

Equally, dire results could lead to further mumbling among Tory MPs about the quality of Theresa May’s leadership. But, be warned, local authority polls rarely reflect the prevailing national mood of politics.

These elections are invariably used by supporters of the prevailing Government to deliver a ‘buck-up-your-ideas’ kick in the pants, painful enough to give ministers a warning that they’d better do better – or else – without actually toppling them.

So, before the first week of May is out, we are likely to see considerable tracts of the land on the political map changed from blue to red as Labour seem likely to gain seat after seat, largely at the expense of the Tories.

And it could not come at a more opportune time for Mr Corbyn, who is at present under attack, not only from his political opponents, but from substantial numbers of his own MPs over his alleged anti-semitism, something he fiercely denies.

We shall be told by Labour that if a general election were to be held straight away, they would command a massive overall majority in the House of Commons based on these results. But you don’t have to believe that. It is hypothetical and probably wrong 
anyway – and in any event, there is unlikely to be a general election for 
three or four years yet.

What is the situation on the ground? Labour already controls most London boroughs. Polls suggest May 3 could see them hoovering up most of the few authorities in the capital under Tory rule. Anger over Brexit could be a factor here. Top Tory grandees are already expressing deep anxiety and publicly warning of very bad news for them at this election. This, as I say, is the normal fate of a national governing party – but it could be far worse this time.

The elections will be held within England, in all 32 London boroughs, 34 metropolitan boroughs, 68 district and borough councils and 17 unitary authorities. There will also be direct elections for the mayoralties of Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Watford. Some 4,000 seats will be up for grabs. Also some leafy, rural areas, always considered as impregnable Tory strongholds, could be snapped up by Labour.

Altogether a grim prospect for Mrs May. The outcome could have a bearing on her political future. And what of the Liberal Democrats? The party came close to being wiped off the face of Westminster in the past two years, but the gruff leader, Sir Vince Cable, sees sunlit uplands ahead. They will probably pick up a few seats here and there, but as for the massive revival he hopes for? Forget it.

ORGANISATIONS which already receive wads of taxpayers’ money (think the arts, for instance) are always, like Oliver Twist, demanding more. Local authorities, constantly moaning they are strapped for cash seem, however, to find ways of spending what they have on frivolous things.

Why, for example, was singer Nadine Coyle (no, me neither) paid £14,000 by St Helens to grace the switch-on of their Christmas lights? And why did Cheryl Klein get £9,000 for appearing at Chorley Flower Show?

These are just two examples among many where ‘celebrities’ are paid huge amounts of public money to cut a tape or throw a switch. These, and other authorities, should stop this ludicrous waste of funds before they try to dig even deeper into what they consider the bottomless pockets of the British taxpayer.

JEREMY Corbyn as a fashion icon? It is hard to believe. However, when I was out and about the other day, I saw a number of young ladies wearing the kind of peaked caps that Corbyn is invariably depicted as wearing, the sort favoured once by Chinese leaders, bearing a red star at the front.

It is certainly a far cry from that day when then Prime Minister, David Cameron, told Corbyn in the Commons to go out and buy a decent suit.

So watch out David Beckham. Corbyn is breathing down your neck.

Chris Moncrieff is a former political editor of the Press Association.