What could London local election results mean for Rishi Sunak and a General Election

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (C) helps out in the kitchen during a visit to Omnom, restaurant and community centre in north London
Rishi Sunak visited the Omnom restaurant and community centre in North London on Monday (May 6) -Credit:HENRY NICHOLLS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Sadiq Khan came out on top during London's local elections last week, as the Labour Party enjoyed success nationwide. The city also elected its London Assembly Members.

This most likely will not be the last time this year that Londoners go to the polls, with the prospect of a General Election in the second half of 2024 looming. So, it is tempting to delve into local election results and try to see what they tell us about what could transpire in the capital during a national poll.

The day before May 2, MyLondon spoke with former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith. He urged Londoners living in Tory seats like his - Chingford and Woodford Green - to 'hold their nerve' as 'things are beginning to get better'.

READ MORE: Sadiq Khan has no target for cutting knife crime after 4 Bank Holiday weekend stabbings

London Mayor Sadiq Khan speaks during his swearing in ceremony
Sadiq Khan officially began his third term as London's mayor on Tuesday -Credit:Leon Neal/Getty Images

This is the stance that the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, hopes will help the Tories close the, at present, 30 percentage point gap on Labour and start to shift so far intransigent survey figures. Despite suggesting that he was not worried about his chances of retaining his own constituency, Sir Iain stopped short of saying that his colleagues, such as Steve Tuckwell in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, would emerge victorious again.

"You don't look into the future," he said, "you work as hard as you can, you make your case to the British public." Similarly, just as it was becoming clear that Susan Hall, the Tory pick for mayor, was going to lose as results came in from counts on Saturday (May 4), MyLondon spoke with Louie French, MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup.

Whilst having a spot of lunch in the ExCel in Newham, he said that the Tory vote in his area was 'solid' and up around 10,000 compared to 2021. Asked what it would mean for Tories in London at a general election if the party's mayoral candidate lost, Mr French said: "It's very difficult again to try and read too much into it. I think our vote has held up relatively strongly [...] What the read across is it's obviously a different election.

"So, we'll see. But I think the feedback we were hearing on the doors, the Conservative vote was still strong."

As you'd expect, Conservatives are saying that they think they will hang on in Outer London. Let's focus on the areas in which Ms Hall came out on top.

Ealing and Hillingdon was a very closely fought contest as the Tory candidate beat Mr Khan by just over 2,000 votes (75,396 to the mayor's 73,257). The Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election was also very close.

The Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election was close, even when the Tories had the edge

Councillor Tuckwell beat Labour's Danny Beales by 495 votes. It is thought that this was due to a backlash to Mr Khan's plan to expand the ULEZ, which was imminent. Given that the constituency's majority was this slim with the momentum provided by the prospect of the £12.50 fee - a red hot topic - and the passage of time since, the blues in West London may be in for a nervy night after voters next cast their ballots.

On the other end of the scale, in Bexley and Bromley, Ms Hall emerged victorious with 111,216 to Mr Khan's 48,952. In 2021, the Labour candidate received 44,350 first preference and 18,443 second preference votes (62,793 signs of approval altogether).

His Tory rival attained 100,630 and 22,256 (122,886). This suggests that Mr French may have reason to be optimistic about Tories' chances in those boroughs at a general.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (C) visits Uxbridge to congratulate Conservative Party candidate, Steve Tuckwell, (C-R) in a greasy spoon
The Prime Minister pounced on last year's by-election win in West London -Credit:Carl Court - Pool / Getty Images

There were also significant gaps between the larger Tory vote and smaller Labour support in Croydon and Sutton (78,790 for Hall to 59,482 for Khan) and Havering and Redbridge (82,859 to 50,780). But an interesting place to keep on eye on during a national poll would be Brent and Harrow where only 7,408 separated Ms Hall and Mr Khan (66,151 to 58,743).

A huge factor that could affect a Conservative candidate's chances would be whether a Reform UK is standing in their constituency. Alex Wilson was elected as a London-wide London Assembly Member on May 2.

However, with the party receiving only 183,358 (7.40 per cent) votes for its London Assembly candidates, and its pick for mayor, Howard Cox, only attracting 78,865 (3 per cent), Reform's bite may prove to be less wounding in the capital than elsewhere in the country at a general election.

Results 'massively disappointing' for Reform UK

Before the official announcement of Mr Khan as the capital's leader, Mr Cox spoke to MyLondon outside City Hall of his disappointment and surprise at the fact that his party did not do better. Describing the result as 'massively disappointing', he said: "People have voted for something which I just still do not understand."

He added that he expected people in Outer London to turn out for the party and said: "I didn't expect to win the mayoral election, but I just hoped that we'd get enough votes to actually push in to get one or two or three people on the Assembly [...] London's dead."

Mr Cox mentioned Ms Hall's positive result in Bromley and Bexley, but said she had been 'smashed to smithereens' in other areas. "Of course, in that situation," the mayoral hopeful added, "we've got no chance."

Howard Cox pictured outside City Hall
Reform UK's pick for the mayoralty, Howard Cox, hoped to have more than one of the party's candidates elected onto the London Assembly -Credit:Adam Toms/MyLondon

Overall, perhaps what is most important to bear in mind is the fact that local and national votes are completely different beasts. It could be argued that, due to Ms Hall's relative anonymity and the controversial nature of some aspects of Mr Khan's record, such as crime levels and opposition to his expansion of the ULEZ, this year's mayoral election was a referendum on him as an individual.

A General Election will also be referendum, but this time not on an individual, but an extremely long period of a Conservative-led coalition and sole Tory governments. Country-wide and regional issues are always interchangeable, with both playing a part in local and general elections.

Whenever Mr Sunak decides to place his and his party's future in voters' hands, there will be a swing away from the blues, as there was in London on May 2. It looks to be just be a matter of how large this will be.

Relive London's local elections and view the full results by viewing our live blog of Saturday, May 4, here.

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