EVERY time local elections take place politicians and journalists get over-excited about them – me included.
Most normal people don’t. They care about local public services, but that doesn’t always translate into voting. Turnouts hover at a little over 30 per cent.
And so when the party in government in Westminster does badly, its MPs like to point out that the local elections aren’t a true reflection of what will happen in a general election.
It’s a fair point. The next one may not happen until 2024, and turnout then will be much higher than it was on Thursday of last week.
If, as Harold Wilson pointed out, a week is a long time in politics, then two years is an age.
Maybe by then the cost of living crisis will have eased, inflation will have dropped again and people with short memories will have forgotten that Boris Johnson broke the law and lied about it.
The Conservatives’ reputation as the party of law and order has been demolished by its current leader, but might be rebuilt by then.
Labour won a landslide in the first elections to the new Cumberland Council and the Liberal Democrats won a landslide in Westmorland and Furness.
The Tories lost control of councils in London they had held for years, in Westminster, Wandsworth and Barnet, and slumped to third place in Scotland, behind the SNP and Labour.
By 2024 this will all seem a long time ago.
Besides, all governments suffer a mid-term drop in popularity, so no-one was expecting the Conservatives to do particularly well last week.
But I couldn’t help feeling that Johnson seemed determine to damage their prospects even further, with yet another stupid and cruelly insensitive remark.
He was asked about the plight of a 77-year-old woman who can’t afford to turn on the heating at home – and so spends her days travelling on buses to keep warm.
Rather than showing any concern or sympathy, he declared that she was able to do that thanks to subsidised public transport that he had introduced.
He had to bring it back to the one topic he is most interested in – himself. Tory council candidates across the country must have cringed. Some will have been incredibly angry.
Is it time they got rid of him? He used to be vote-winner for them and now he’s a proven vote-loser.
Some argue that we shouldn’t ditch prime ministers while there’s a war on, but that only shows an ignorance of history.
Herbert Asquith was swapped for David Lloyd George during World War One, Neville Chamberlain resigned in favour of Winston Churchill during World War Two and John Major took over from Margaret Thatcher just as we entered the First Gulf War.
And those were wars where our armed forces were actually involved, unlike Ukraine.
The other argument in favour of retaining Johnson, put forward by some Tories anyway, is that there is no obvious successor. At least there hasn’t been since the shine came off Rishi Sunak.
But this too shows a lack of historical knowledge. The Conservatives have a habit of choosing the less obvious candidate – as when Rab Butler was passed over for Ted Heath, when John Major rather than Michael Heseltine took over from Thatcher, and when they picked William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard instead of Ken Clarke.
There are plenty of people in all political parties who want to be leader, so it’s never difficult to find someone.
But my guess is that Johnson will hang on, waiting for the fuss to die down, safe in the knowledge that the right-wing national papers will still back him and insult his opponents.
He has another advantage. At the next election there will be more Conservative voters and fewer Labour ones, because of new rules at polling stations.
Henceforth everyone will need photographic ID when they go to vote. If you don’t have a passport or driving licence you have to obtain it from your local council.
The poorest people in society – most likely to vote Labour – are also least likely to take foreign holidays or drive a car. And will they really go to the trouble of applying to the council for ID?
It’s proposed as an attempt to stop voter fraud, but that crime is extremely rare in Britain. In 2017 there was only one conviction for it and in 2018 there were none at all.
It’s an expensive solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
It sounds as if Johnson fears he couldn’t win a fair fight.