July 15, 2024

UK local elections: Sunak’s first test

UK local elections: Sunak’s first test

Status: 04.05.2023 03:16

Many British local authorities now elect new regional parliaments. For Prime Minister Sunak, the Tory party’s results are a first-hand witness – and the scores could be dire.

Hugh Badfield was a businessman. The farmer runs a cheese factory near Bath, west of London. 50 people are working here. Hugh has a special visitor that day. Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, is here. He wants to see the company, what’s important to the farmers and entrepreneurs – and how the cheese is made.

Hugh leads the politician through the cheese factory, past vats and warehouses where round cheeses are matured: soft cheeses and other crumbly, truffle-cured or rubbed with cider.

Rishi Sunak has been Prime Minister of Britain for 100 days and problems are piling up in the country.

Lack of skilled workers, High energy costs

Ed Davey listens, explains everything to him, and is surprised. The leader of the Liberal Democrats is also pictured with an interest in farmer entrepreneurship. It is an election campaign. “No matter who you talk to – farmers, other entrepreneurs – they are unhappy with the government. For different reasons. After Brexit some will no longer have employees, energy prices will go up,” says Davey. Energy prices have risen in other countries too, but the British government has fared particularly badly, the entrepreneur says.

It is about subsidies and agricultural policy. After leaving the EU, funds must be reallocated. Farmers fear that land will become unaffordable due to rising rents.

Good opportunity for opposition parties

The Liberal Democrats can’t promise much – but they want to set an example for innovation, rural areas and entrepreneurship in this election campaign. In this first test of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s mettle, the opposition’s prospects are not so bad.

Today over 8000 local authorities are up for re-election in England and Northern Ireland. The poll puts the Conservatives on 30 per cent, Labor on 44 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 10 per cent.

The Conservatives are still suffering from a back-and-forth at the top of the party: Boris Johnson resigned over the Partygate scandal, followed by Liz Truss’s days in office. Along with a disastrous fiscal policy, it sent markets crashing, and real estate interest rates have risen sharply since then. Then came Rishi Sunak.

The Northern Ireland deal is being celebrated as a “milestone” in the press – but is there enough support for Chung?

It is about Sunak’s political future

Homeowners will pass the bill, Labor leader Keir Starmer told the House of Commons: “By the end of the year, two million homeowners will be paying for the Tories’ economic destruction.” It’s about the high cost of living and rising council taxes this campaign. It’s about a collapsed sanitation system and privatized utilities that dump untreated sewage into rivers and the sea.

For Sunak, it was about political survival. He stabilized the party, capturing the far right of the conservatives in half. A trade deal with Northern Ireland has finally been signed with the EU. But the high cost of living and social aspects remain. During an exchange of blows in the House of Commons, Chung accused the Labor leader: the Tories delivered. In London, the former Conservative mayor built 60,000 social homes. But according to the Prime Minister, Labor has so far reached only half.

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Whether these examples are enough to inspire voters for the Tories is questionable. There is no better opportunity for the cost of living, and the problems with the NHS health service are overwhelming.

After these local elections, the question may be: can Labor continue to govern on its own after the next general election – probably in late 2024 – or does the party need a coalition partner? Liberal Democrats for example.