Tactical Voting and Islamophobia: How Local Elections Threaten the Conservative Party’s Aspirations

Murad Jandali | a year ago




Millions of Britons in more than 230 councils are preparing to cast their votes in the local elections that are currently taking place in exceptional circumstances for voters, parties, and the government as well.

Leading pollsters have confirmed that the tactical anti-Conservative vote may lead to significant losses in the local elections for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s party, according to what The Independent reported on April 15, 2023.

Expectations indicate that the Conservative Party may lose up to a thousand seats, and the Labour Party seizes the opportunity of the impasse in which the ruling party is going to advance and compensate for the heavy loss it suffered under the leadership of former leader Jeremy Corbyn in 2019.

Although polls recently revealed that Sunak managed to restore a group of voters who usually favor the Tories, they lost confidence in the party during the chaos that the government experienced during the periods of Liz Truss and Boris Johnson, according to sources familiar with the party’s internal strategy.

What increases the pressure on Sunak is what was revealed by The Guardian regarding the nomination of his ruling party, five councilors whose membership was suspended in the party due to their accusation of Islamophobia in recent years for the current local elections.


Local Elections 2023

The Telegraph reported on 3 May 2023 that the Conservative Party was now facing a real test, as more than 8,000 local councils across England would be renovated.

The election marks the first big test at the polls for Rishi Sunak since he became Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party last October.

It will also reflect the popularity of the Labour, led by Sir Keir Starmer, and its ability to achieve gains in the next general elections scheduled for no later than January 25, 2025.

About 230 councils are being contested, of which 83 are run by the Conservatives, 49 are controlled by the Labour and 17 are controlled by the Liberal Democrats.

The newspaper pointed out that 80 of the councils put up for grabs are not subject to comprehensive control, which means that no party has a majority.

The Tories currently hold 3,290, with Labour on 2,062 and the Liberal Democrats on 1,205. Independents and others make up the remaining 1,600 seats.

Conservative ministers and advisers fear that Sunak will lose the momentum he has achieved in recent months, and that he will collide with the ceiling of opinion polls, due to the accumulation of political problems.

A poll conducted by Ipsos UK showed that about 55% of Britons expect the Conservatives to lose seats in the local elections next Thursday, May 4, while only 9% of Britons believe that the party will win additional seats.

On the other hand, 45% of Britons believe that Labour will win seats in the upcoming local elections.

According to the poll, many Britons believe that Labour councils provide better local services and listen to residents.

Keiran Pedley, research director at Ipsos, said: “These results show how local elections are different to general elections in the minds of voters, who prioritize local issues over national ones when deciding how to vote in them.”

Sunak now needs to attract voters who have no historical affiliation with the Conservative Party. The Tories admit that if the party does not succeed in winning back enough of these voters, Sunak will find himself in front of a direct path to a crushing electoral defeat.

Senior Conservative Party officials told Bloomberg that Sunak may need to make a more meaningful offer to the public in order to make the move happen.

The party warned that the difference that the Labour leads could become more difficult with time to reduce it.

A minister in the British government told Bloomberg that the key question now is how Sunak’s team can reduce the electoral difference, to between 5 and 10 points before the campaign begins.

Conservative Party advisers are betting that this difference is of the same kind that could lead the country to a hung parliament, where no party can secure a ruling majority, as happened in 2010.


Political Alternative

In this regard, the Labour advanced the Tories by four points in the opinion poll conducted two weeks before the British local elections in 2023, which will increase the Labour’s chances of winning membership of more councils.

According to the poll conducted by Opinium, the Tories failed to influence the popularity of Labour, which amounted to 44%, compared to 26% in favor of the Tories.

The results of last year’s by-elections proved that the absence of an opposition political alternative will no longer be sufficient for the ruling party to ensure its survival in power.

In the 2019 local elections, the Tories lost over 1,300 seats. But Labour—then led by Jeremy Corbyn—also went backward, losing over 80 seats.

The Liberal Democrats made huge gains, picking up 700 seats, while the Greens gained almost 200.

Britain’s exit from the European Union was a major factor during the past years in deciding the results of votes during the local or by-elections, and in shaping the features of the broader picture of the geography of loyalty to conservative governments, or those opposing them.

However, it has become difficult to ignore the remarkable rise in the number of people who believe they were wrong to vote for Britain to leave the EU.

Today, more than 54% of those who voted for Brexit believe that their decision was wrong, compared to 34% who still maintain the same conviction.

Thus, it is no longer axiomatic today for the traditionally conservative regions, which voted for Brexit, to maintain their loyalty to the ruling party, exactly as the past by-elections showed. In addition, the close association in the public imagination between Brexit and the worst economic crisis the UK has experienced in decades.


Tory Crises

The catastrophic conditions experienced by millions of British voters must cast a shadow over the results of the local elections, as food prices witnessed an unprecedented rise, in addition to energy and tax bills.

Although the economic crisis was global in one way or another after the Covid-19 pandemic, and after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it was the most severe for Britain compared to its European neighbors, as inflation exceeded the 13% threshold and the consumer price index rose to 10.1%.

Polls indicate that more than half of British voters believe that the Tories bear sole responsibility for the cost-of-living crisis, and that the current government is accused of protecting the wealthy, while the percentage of voters who hold responsibility for international issues such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine does not exceed 37%.

On the other hand, the ruling party is experiencing unprecedented pressure in the file of public services, especially vital sectors, such as the public transport sector and the health sector.

The Downing Street parties’ file and the scandals that followed Boris Johnson’s government were a major factor in the loss suffered by the Tories in the by-elections last year. As the Labour was able to restore its areas of influence on the one hand, and to seize other traditionally conservative areas.

The results at the time sparked great anger and widespread criticism in the ranks of the Tories, and most of them blamed their leader, Johnson, and the repeated mistakes he committed by breaking the law and misleading Parliament.

Although the previous two governments hurt the ruling party’s popularity a lot, the current Sunak government is no better. Since Sunak was in the government only seven months ago, more than three officials resigned due to charges of corruption, inappropriate behavior, and tax evasion, while other ministers are still in office despite similar charges.

The ultimate word remains for the British voters and for the polls that will open on the morning of May 5, but the path to victory in the upcoming general elections seems more difficult than ever for all parties, especially the ruling party.


Islamophobia and Racism

In a related context, The Guardian revealed in a report on April 30, 2023, that five members of the Tories who ran for local elections in England had suspended their membership in the party because they have been accused of Islamophobia in recent years as a result of their proposal to ban mosques and accuse Muslims of seeking to spread Islam in the world.

The names of Tories accused of racism were mentioned in a file released by an anonymous Twitter account in 2019.

Among the members is Danny Scott from Blackpool, who is accused of making offensive comments online after posting on Facebook two years ago that Muslims have been terrorizing non-Muslims for a thousand years.

The file also revealed that Beverley Dunlop, a councilor for Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole, commented on Facebook: “Muslims should be afraid of the British government because they might deport them!” She added, “I hate to ban anything, but we have to start by banning mosques.”

Lee Mason was also suspended from Portsmouth Council in 2020 after a leaked photo from his Snapchat account showed a cake with a swastika on it.

Also in 2019, Robin Popley, a councilor for Charnwood, Leicestershire, was suspended after he made racist remarks.

As well as, the Tories suspended the membership of Ian Stokes, a councilor in South Kesteven, Lincolnshire, in 2021, after he used racist language in his meeting and described Muslims as different.

In 2019, The Guardian revealed the Tories had quietly reinstated 15 councilors suspended for Islamophobia or racism. Under internal and external pressure.

The Singh investigation found anti-Muslim sentiment remained a problem in the party and said the complaints procedure was under-resourced and lacking in transparency, but denied the party was institutionally racist.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has so far decided not to conduct its own inquiry into Islamophobia in the Tory party, having dropped plans to do so in 2020.