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The Local Election Results Flush the Conservative Party’s Culture War Strategy Down the Gender Neutral Toilet

The Conservative party’s strategy of trying to win the general election through a mixture of ‘culture wars and the trans debate’ is only worsening their defeats to Labour

Rishi Sunak leaves Downing Street. Photo: Mark Thomas / Alamy

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The hours before any big election is a crucial time for any political party. 

With voters about to pick their local representatives in large parts of the country, you might have expected the Conservative party to have spent all of their time this week ramming home their big election messages about council tax and Labour mismanagement.

Yet on one of the biggest broadcasting slots afforded to the party on the eve of the local elections, one of the Conservative party’s leading figures instead devoted their energies to talking about toilets.

In a typically spiky performance on LBC, the Business Secretary and current favourite to become the next Conservative party leader, Kemi Badenoch berated the host about her use of the term “culture wars” while repeatedly failing to substantiate her claims about the prevelance of non-gender specific toilets in schools and their impact on the number of urinary tract infections currently being experienced by girls.

Meanwhile, in local government wards across the country, Conservative councillors and activists struggled to persuade voters that there was any substantial reason for them to stick with the party after 14 years of low growth and failing public services.

The result is that, according to the early results we are now seeing, the Conservatives are on course for a truly catastrophic set of defeats, just months away from the next general election.

According to the first tranche of local election results, Rishi Sunak‘s losing around half the seats they are defending, with Labour regaining councils both in their former heartlands and in Conservative strongholds in the South.

According to Britain’s leading pollster John Curtice, the numbers point to Rishi Sunak’s party suffering “one of the worst, if not the worst, Conservative performances in local government elections in the last 40 years”, with the party doing at least as badly as the current national opinion polls suggest.


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In the Blackpool South by-election, where the former MP Scott Benton was forced out over a lobbying and corruption scandal, Labour scored the fourth largest swing away from the Conservatives in history, with Keir Starmer’s party also winning back support the party lost in it’s former northern heartlands, as well as in formerly safe Conservative areas in the South.

It’s not all good news for Labour. In areas with large Muslim populations, such as in parts of Newcastle, there have been large swings to the Green Party, as voters unhappy with Keir Starmer’s weak response to the war in Gaza vote look for an alternative.

Some of the results in the upcoming mayoral elections due to be declared over the next couple of days could also prove disappointing for Starmer’s party. Those around Sadiq Khan suggest the results in London will be much closer than the large poll leads suggest, due to changes in the voting system and voter dissatisfaction over crime and the mayor’s clean air policies. 

Labour could also face an upset in the North East mayoral election, where the former Labour mayor turned independent, Jamie Driscoll, looks on course for a potential victory after being blocked from standing by the party.

This could all be a sign of things to come under a potential future Labour Government, with splits on the left and voter dissatisfaction quickly souring the elation of any general election landslide.

But for a party on the cusp of going from one of the worst general election defeats in history in 2019 to one of their greatest ever victories in 2024, these are crosses they will be more than willing to bear.


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And while Downing Street have been desperately trying to focus journalists’ attention on the rare expected chinks of light from these results, such as Andy Street and Ben Houchen potentially clinging on to their mayoral seats, the truth is that the only Conservative candidates likely to do well in these elections are those who have most successfully distanced themselves from the party they still nominally stand for.

Meanwhile the party’s core strategy of trying to ignite a series of “culture wars” over issues such as gender and immigration, are continuing to fail for the party.

Despite spending this week marshalling immigration officers and the civil service behind a pre-local election push on its Rwanda policy, the early results suggest that the Conservative party’s focus on such issues is only helping to serve the interests of Nigel Farage’s Reform party.

Meanwhile, the broader focus on niche culture war debating issues, appears to be merely alienating voters far more concerned with other issues, according to research by the pollster Luke Tryl, who suggests that such rhetoric about “woke” issues “significantly reduces the likelihood to vote Conservative”.

In fact despite all of their best efforts, all the signs suggest that the Conservative party’s strategy of attempting to win the general election through what their former Deputy Chairman Lee Anderson describes as “a mix of culture wars and the trans debate” is going swiftly down the (gender neutral) toilet.

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