The Tories were heading for a good result in the English local elections, riding on the success of the Covid jab programmes. The question now is whether the avalanche of sleaze allegations will cut through to voters.
It should. Boris Johnson has always relied on his affable bluster to get himself out of scrapes. Some are personal, some go to his conduct in public office and now one where his casual relationship with the truth has partly led to the downfall of Arlene Foster, the DUP leader. His false claim that there would be no customs border in the Irish sea was a lie. Foster was being used as a dupe to support our exit from the EU.
Sadly, I fear none of this will matter that much to most English voters who are grateful that Johnson delivered Brexit and got them vaccinated. Labour is desperate to make it a big issue because Kier Starmer has not cut through in his first year in office.
That is the political background as I complete my survey of this huge round of elections by looking at the mayoral and police polls.
The most interesting contests are for the positions of elected mayor in the West Midlands and the city of Liverpool.
In normal circumstances one would expect Labour to hold the city, but the party has had an awful run up to polling day. The former mayor Joe Anderson resigned and was arrested, the original Labour shortlist for his successor was scrapped and Joanne Anderson (no relation) an inexperienced councillor is the candidate. It could be a chance for veteran Lib Dem Richard Kemp or even well-known charity boss Stephen Yip standing as an independent.
In the West Midlands, the question is if the Conservative Andy Street can hold on to his slim majority over former Labour Minister Liam Byrne. Street has done a good job and Byrne is still burdened with the silly stunt of leaving a note for his successor at the Treasury in 2010 saying there was no money left.
West Yorkshire is getting an elected mayor for the first time. It will be the Batley and Spen MP Tracy Brabin.
Andy Burnham is the best-known elected mayor outside London and will be re-elected. His period in office has shown the limitation of mayoral power in respect of the pandemic and plans for housing. Stockport were able to block his scheme for the whole of Greater Manchester.
The Liverpool City Region will re-elect Steve Rotheram who has an opportunity to raise his game in the light of the core city’s crisis with commissioners running some services.
More bobbies on the streets pleaase
That seems to be the general plea of voters in the elections for Police and Crime Commissioners. The post hasn’t caught the public’s imagination. PCCs seem to hit the headlines only when they clash with Chief Constables, who they can sack.
David Keane, seeking re-election in Cheshire, failed in a gross misconduct charge against then Chief Constable Simon Byrne in 2018. He faces a stiff challenge form former Cheshire PPC John Dwyer.
On Merseyside former Labour Deputy PCC Emily Spurrell is set to replace the retiring Jane Kennedy. Andy Burnham is the PCC for Greater Manchester where the police force faces major problems. Meanwhile Labour’s Clive Grunshaw will continue as Lancashire’s PCC.
Just a word about next Thursday’s parliamentary by election in Hartlepool. Labour is in for a close-run thing. Is the Red Wall still cracking? If the Tories should win, there are six North West Labour seats with smaller majorities than Hartlepool. They are Worsley, Stalybridge, Lancaster, Warrington North, Oldham East, and Weaver Vale.
Eventually we will be able to see whether Johnson has pulled it off again, whether Labour are still in deep trouble and whether the Lib Dems can emerge from obscurity in these local elections where they traditionally prosper. How will the Greens, who are doing well in Germany, get on and what will happen to the UKIP vote that was a factor when some of these elections were last fought before the 2016 referendum?