Does the Tory Party have any hope in the general election after the disastrous showing last week? - Bill Carmichael

So, what next for the Conservative Party after a disastrous showing in last week’s local elections? The short answer to that is probably the Opposition benches in the not too distant future, but it is worth a deeper analysis to see if there is any glimmer of hope for beleaguered Tories.

The scale of the defeats last week cannot be ignored. The Conservatives lost 470 council seats and all but one of the Mayoral contests.

Ominously for the Tories these setbacks happened not just in the ‘red wall’ areas of the North and Midlands that they famously won in 2019, but also in the normally reliably Conservative suburbs of the Home Counties.

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Even true blue North Yorkshire turned red in the Mayoral election for the new York and North Yorkshire Combined Authority.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and his wife, Victoria arrive at local polling station in north London, last week. PIC: Stefan Rousseau/PA WireLabour leader Sir Keir Starmer and his wife, Victoria arrive at local polling station in north London, last week. PIC: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and his wife, Victoria arrive at local polling station in north London, last week. PIC: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Some of the more pessimistic Conservatives believe that the party could be heading for a worse general election performance than John Mayor’s 1997 defeat when they were reduced to just 165 MPs.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, although admitting the results were disappointing, put a much more positive spin on things when he vowed to keep fighting and said: “The result of the next general election isn’t a foregone conclusion and indeed actually is closer than many people are saying, or some of the opinion polls are predicting.”

Mr Sunak was pointing to independent analysis based on the votes last week that indicated we could be heading for a hung Parliament with no party with an overall majority.

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Expect the Conservatives to push the “coalition of chaos” line, as they did in 2015 when they suggested Labour under Ed Miliband would be in hock to the SNP. This time they will say a minority Labour government will be reliant on votes from the Lib Dems, the SNP and perhaps the increasingly extreme Green Party.

I think the polls will tighten significantly as we approach the general election, but whether that will be enough to save the Tories is the big question.

I can spot at least three problems with the Prime Minister’s analysis. Firstly, some people vote differently in local elections than in general elections. Some of those who voted Lib Dem or Green Party in protest last week will opt for Labour when faced with a binary choice for Prime Minister between Mr Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer at a general election.

Secondly, the situation in Scotland could be crucial. If the SNP implosion continues that will benefit Labour with polls showing the party could pick up as many as 28 seats north of the border.

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Finally, the Reform Party is eating Conservative support from the right. In the Blackpool South by-election, for example, Reform came within a whisker of beating the Conservatives to second place with almost 17 per cent of the vote. If that kind of performance is replicated at a general election it will cost the Conservatives many seats.

It is worth saying at this point that the Conservatives have only themselves to blame.

Sure the pandemic and the energy price shock as a result of the war in Ukraine have made running the country incredibly difficult over recent years. But no one who voted Conservative in 2019 expected to see open borders and the highest tax burden for 70 years.

The only ray of hope for the Conservatives is the distinct lack of enthusiasm for Sir Keir Starmer and Labour. In sharp contrast to 1997 before Tony Blair’s landslide victory there is little excitement about a forthcoming Labour government and absolutely none of that “Things can only get better” vibe.

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I suspect voters can see that Sir Keir is a slippery individual when it comes to policy, with a record of U-turns and broken promises that earned him the nickname Captain Hindsight.

For example he quickly abandoned many of the left wing pledges, such as nationalising public utilities and abolishing university tuition fees, that he made in his campaign to become leader after Jeremy Corbyn’s election defeat in 2019.

And the flagship policy of a £28bn green investment plan was unceremoniously dumped earlier this year.

All that is left is a hollowed out shell with little detail on how the party will stimulate growth, provide jobs, tackle crime, improve health care and education, bring people off benefits, and stem illegal immigration (other than opposing every single effort the current government has made to deal with this problem).

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Labour appears to think that rather than offering a positive vision for the future, all it has to do is lie low, keep vague on policy details, and hope that completely fed up voters give them a chance. The depressing thing is they could well be right.

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