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Local elections will act as an uber poll for the general election, if voters turn out

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LGC’s essential daily briefing

Yesterday’s announcement that we are to have a snap general election on 8 June sent shockwaves through the UK political system. But despite all the excitement, the news means policy gridlock until late June at the earliest as an extended period of purdah puts a block on ministers taking decisions of any significance.

Communities secretary Sajid Javid and his ministerial team made this clear in their appearance before the Commons communities and local government committee this afternoon: on reform of section 106 and the community infrastructure levy, bespoke deals on borrowing for housing and even 100% business rates retention it will be for the next government to decide, they said.

Thankfully Mr Javid did also put paid to speculation, running rife yesterday, that the local and combined authority mayoral elections scheduled for 4 May could be moved to coincide with the general election. For returning officers and elections staff, particularly those with elections on 4 May as well, the next seven weeks promise to be relentless. Speaking to LGC, Jo Miller, Doncaster MBC chief executive and president of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers, said the snap election would put elections teams “under enormous pressure”. 

Local elections always offer an insight into the political forces at play in the country and in a world in which voter polls must be treated with care they will provide an extremely useful indicator of the outcome of June’s surprise general election.

For example, how significant is the Liberal Democrat resurgence? Do voters view Ukip as an irrelevance now Brexit is on the way? And just how dire will things be for the Labour party?

In their exclusive analysis for LGC, psephologists Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher predict Labour will suffer losses in the Welsh Valleys and lose even more of the little influence it has on most county councils in England, making it the first opposition party ever to lose ground at local elections for the third year in succession. This will pile further pressure on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn but leave the party with little time to choose a replacement before 8 June, should he depart.

As Rallings and Thrasher note, most county councils are not natural Labour constituencies, but nevertheless predictions of Labour’s poor performance must surely have emboldened the prime minister in her decision to call a snap election. The big question for the Conservatives in May’s elections is whether they can begin a return to their pre-2013 dominance when the party had an overall majority on every county council except Cumbria CC.

Rallings and Thrasher suggest several of the 10 counties they lost four years ago will return to Conservative control. In Norfolk, for example, where Ukip’s popularity cost the Conservatives dear last time, the Tories need just three gains to take back control. Theresa May will no doubt be hoping there are similar easy wins to be made nationally.

Lancashire and Warwickshire CCs also feature in Rallings and Thrasher’s seven councils to watch as authorities that could return to all out Conservative control with a big enough swing. However, they warn the Tories could be vulnerable to a Lib Dem fight back in Somerset.

Nationally and locally the Lib Dems are hoping their unwavering pro-EU stance will win them remain voters from both Labour and the Conservatives. Writing for LGC, Tony Travers describes the party’s pitch as ‘anti-Brexit-and-time-for-a-change’ and predicts the general election will feel like the sequel to last year’s EU referendum. 

In a blog published yesterday afternoon, Centre for Cities chief executive Andrew Carter warns the snap general election will crowd out the local issues that should be deciding the county and first combined authority mayoral elections on 4 May, as the main parties’ approach to Brexit is likely to end up having a disproportionate bearing on voters’ choices.

As LGC has been reporting over the past couple of weeks, all the mayoral combined authorities are concerned about low turnout; Rallings and Thrasher warn this could render the contests a huge anti-climax. Mr Carter predicts election fatigue among the public will cause even more voters to stay at home in May as “national trumps local again”. 

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