In by-election after by-election in wards in Labour heartlands, the Conservatives are more often than not coming behind the BNP in 4th place. In Chopwell and Rowlands Gill they were saved from humiliation of 4th place simply because there were only 3 parties standing. Nevertheless, the Conservative share was down 8%. It should be remembered that when Rowlands Gill was a ward in its own right 30 years ago, it returned Conservative councillors. It is a prosperous town which is exactly the sort of area where the Conservatives would normally be expected to do well. Last week they barely registered at all with the voters.
It was the same in my ward last year. Whickham South was Conservative until 1986. In the byelection in July, their vote was tiny. In a byelection in Salford yesterday, they came 4th. In a recent byelection in Hartlepool they came 5th. There is a clear pattern developing of the Conservatives being an irrelevant fringe party in some areas.
There are some exceptions. North Tyneside and Sunderland for example. But cross the border from those councils and the Conservatives are back in a desert.
Back in the 90s, Labour's then recovery was marked by the election of Labour councillors in areas where few had dreamed of Labour ever being elected. I always remember the shock people experienced when Labour councillors were elected in Isle of Wight. The equivalent Tory recovery is much more patchy. There are some in the Conservatives who think the general election is in the bag for them. They should not be so easy however with their confidence. They need to gain 130 seats to scrape in with a minimal majority. That is going to be a major challenge.
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