Lack of Brexit progress would hit Tories badly in council elections, says polling expert

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Brexit is likely have a major impact on next month’s town hall elections in England, according to a leading polling expert.

If Theresa May successfully delivers Brexit by polling day on 2 May, the Conservatives could reap the benefit at the ballot box.

But if she fails and Brexit is further delayed, the Tories could be badly disadvantaged, with smaller parties the main beneficiaries.

The predictions have been made by polling guru Robert Hayward, who has accurately forecast the results of recent general elections and referendums.

“I have no doubt in my own mind that there’s a Brexit benefit to the government if there’s a deal,” said Lord Hayward, a Conservative peer and former MP.

“The corollary of that is that there’s a deficit. There’s clearly a dis-benefit, a disadvantage to the Tory party to not having a deal.

“There’s no question about it and if you talk to most MPs they will say exactly the same thing. They want a deal so they can go out on the doorsteps and say: ‘We’ve got a deal’.”

In a presentation to political journalists entitled Beyond The Bubble: The Battle For Unpopularity, Lord Hayward predicted turnout would drop dramatically.

“There’s a group of people who are hacked off with politicians in general,” he said. “They will not turn out and vote.”

Some 8,374 council seats in England and 460 in Northern Ireland, which were last contested on election day in 2015, are being fought on 2 May.

The elections are in metropolitan boroughs in the big English cities, district councils and unitary authorities, but there are no elections in Wales, Scotland, London or Birmingham.

There are also elections for mayors in Bedford, Copeland, Leicester, Mansfield, Middlesbrough and North of Tyne.

When these council seats were last fought, on the day David Cameron won an overall Commons majority after five years in coalition with the Lib Dems, the Tories gained 28 councils and 504 councillors.

UKIP, then led by Nigel Farage, gained 112 councillors, while Labour lost 238 councillors and the Liberal Democrats 425.

This time, the Conservatives are fielding the most candidates, fighting a record 96% of the seats up for election, Labour 77%, the Lib Dems 53%, Greens 30% and UKIP 16%.

Talks between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn over Brexit have shown little progress


“Considering there is the general perception that the grassroots of the Tory party are in total despair and immobile, 96% is the highest figure in this four-year cycle that’s ever been achieved,” said Lord Hayward.

The Tory, Labour and Lib Dem candidate numbers are all slightly up on 2015, but the Greens are down from 38% and UKIP massively down from 44%.

The first result on 2 May will be from Peterborough, on a recall petition against ex-Labour MP Fiona Onasanya, who was jailed for three months in January for perverting the course of justice after lying about a speeding offence.

With the Tories unlikely to make gains after their success in 2015, Labour – which already controls many metropolitan boroughs and unitary authorities – will be hoping to take control of Trafford, Calderdale and Dudley.

The Liberal Democrats will be hoping to make progress in councils in Somerset and in Wokingham and West Berkshire. The Tories’ one realistic hope of a gain is Thurrock.

Although Lord Hayward said a net loss of seats for the Tories was likely, he added: “If you look at the Newport West by-election, if you look at council by-elections, if you look at nominations, the level of dissent is not to the same extent as portrayed by some.”

In council by-elections in the past month, for example, while the Conservatives have gained six seats and lost five, Labour has gained none and lost nine and the Liberal Democrats have gained seven and lost two.

If the European Parliament elections go ahead on 23 May, both Labour and the Conservatives could also suffer a Brexit backlash and lose support to the smaller parties.

A recent ComRes poll for the European elections put Labour on 30%, the Conservatives on 22%, Mr Farage’s new Brexit Party on 12%, UKIP and the new independent group Change UK on 10% and the Lib Dems on 9%.

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