John Curtice delivers brutal blow to Boris as Tories lose grip on Brexit strongholds

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Last week’s local elections put on a disappointing show for the Conservatives, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitting a “tough” result for the Tories. The party lost control of 11 councils and almost 500 seats, including the key Tory boroughs of Westminster and Wandsworth. This local election picture is one of Tory losses in their “heartland” areas in the south, Sir John argued, where the ruling party are in “greater trouble”.

Sir John Curtice said the “impact of Brexit on the electoral geography of party support is still very, very strong”.

Comparing the 2022 local election results with four years ago, or with the picture from 2016, “there’s still a very strong pattern of the Conservatives doing better in Leave areas and worse in Remain areas”.

He then added: “But if you compare that with last year’s local elections, then you do find that trend beginning to be reversed.”

But Labour is gaining ground in Leave areas, he said, as a greater Conservative decline takes hold in these regions.

Sir John continued: “That’s consistent with the opinion polls, which basically say that the more volatile end of the Conservative coalition has been the Leave end.

“That then begins to have some effect on the geography.”

He added: “They are seemingly in trouble with both ends of their coalition.”

They are “in some trouble” in regions that the Tories gained in 2017 and 2019 because of the party’s Leave stance, “but at the same time, the Tories are losing most ground in places that geographically would be regarded as more traditional Conservative territory”.

Sir John said: “If you look at the pattern of Tory losses of councils, they are virtually all south of Birmingham. And that was illustrative of a wider picture.

“So you can see why some Conservative MPs think they might be in danger of both losing the Red Wall and the traditional Tory heartlands at the same time.”

But there is a ray of hope for the ruling party, Sir John said.

He added: “The party is in trouble, but not in as much trouble as it was under John Major’s leadership before 1997. 

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“The results in the local elections confirmed that the party has now hit electorally choppy waters, and it is behind Labour.

“But then it is not uncommon for governments to be behind in midterms.”

Sir John said that the local elections displayed the Tories’ first dip behind Labour since before the pandemic, which comes in the aftermath of Partygate.

He added: “There are some aspects of the results that will give the Conservatives some pause for thought.”

He explained: “In general, their support fell rather more heavily in wards that they were trying to defend.

“If that persists through to a General Election, then that is something that can do quite a lot of damage.

“It is redolent of what happened in the local elections before 1997.”

A BBC projection following the election results predicted that Labour would clinch 35 percent of votes to the Conservatives’ 30 percent, had all of Britain voted.

This would have afforded Labour its biggest lead in local elections for ten years, although some have questioned whether the local gains will materialise on a national level in 2024.

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