Double-digit vote share in local elections ‘could indicate Labour government’

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A polling guru has said Labour scoring a victory of more than 10% over the Conservatives in the local elections could suggest that Sir Keir Starmer is on course to be the next prime minister.

Professor Sir John Curtice said those wanting a clue as to who could win the next general election should be focused on the projected national vote share as the results of Thursday’s poll roll in, rather than on the number of council seats gained.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday that New Labour’s Sir Tony Blair and former Conservative Party leader David Cameron had secured “double-digit” wins over the rival ruling party in local authority contests before they entered Downing Street.

Polling results published on Saturday suggested that Labour leader Sir Keir has extended his lead over Tory Prime Minister Rishi Sunak by four points across the past fortnight.

Sir John said: “Undoubtedly the question above all that we’re asking ourselves about what we’ll see on Thursday is does the Labour Party put in the kind of performance, if we compare it with previous local elections, that might lead us to believe – which the polls have been telling us for the last six months or so – that they have a chance of winning the next general election?

“And not least of the reasons for making that the benchmark is that, if you look at what happened before the 1997 general election when Tony Blair won a landslide for Labour, Labour in the local elections leading up to 1997 were regularly recording double-digit leads in what we call the projected national share.

“This is an attempt to estimate, looking at the votes cast in the local elections, as to how well the parties would have done if everywhere had had a chance to vote.”

He continued: “So you can see why we are asking ourselves the big question: can Labour at least register a double-digit on this measure?

“After all, the best they’ve done so far since 2010 is the seven-point lead that Ed Miliband got in 2012.”

The University of Strathclyde academic said political observers need to be “very wary of all this talk about seats gained and lost”.

New Year Honours List 2018
Sir John Curtice said it will be the vote share rather than council seats gained that could predict a Labour government (Strathclyde University/PA)

But Sir John said 5,000 of the 8,000 seats in play are in “shire district councils” where “Labour is often not competitive”.

He also highlighted that the local authority seats being decided on Thursday were last contested during the end of Theresa May’s premiership when the Tories performed poorly in the May 2019 local elections, meaning the party is defending a low base.

“But if we’re going to get something like a double-digit lead for Labour, we’re certainly talking about Labour probably (securing) more than 500 gains,” he said.

“The Conservatives perhaps maybe not as many as 1,000 (loses), but 700 would certainly seem quite possible.

“So even those kind of numbers are potentially consistent with the kind of performance where we might say ‘Well, actually Labour has pretty much confirmed what the opinion polls have told us’.”

Sir John said the Liberal Democrats and Green Party both performed well in 2019’s local elections, meaning they are defending a high base, so even a strong showing in the polls may not lead to many seat gains.

On the UK Government’s decision to make it compulsory for those voting in person on Thursday in England to have to show photographic identification, Sir John said Great Britain was “rather unusual” by international standards in not requiring voters to prove who they are.

However, he also noted that there is “not much evidence of fraudulent voting” outside of Northern Ireland, where it is already compulsory.

Highlighting that young people’s bus passes are not being accepted as a form of ID whereas travel cards for older people are, Sir John said: “Given that we know younger people are rather more inclined to vote Labour these days, it does perhaps cast a little bit of a partisan shadow about the way in which it has been implemented.”

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