Grant Shapps is becoming the Comical Ali of the Conservative Party

25th April, 2013 12:01 am

The sniping and spinning has already started.

David Cameron is being warned he needs to lose fewer than 400 seats in next week’s Council elections if he is to hold onto the Tory leadership.

Ridiculously overplaying the expectations management game, Conservative chairman Grant Shapps says the Tories must expect to lose 500 seats.

He says the elections are all about a test of whether Ed Miliband has appeal in the shire counties. Shapps is becoming the Comical Ali of the Conservative Party.

The truth is these elections are about the 2,391 individual council seats in 35 local authorities and ensuring they have the best person to represent those areas.

But the pundits and commentators – and let’s be honest, the politicians – will look at the results and try to work out what they mean for the 2015 General Election.

So here is the reality check.

These elections are concentrated in Tory heartlands.

Around 18 million electors can take part. Of these about 11 million are in the Eastern, South East and South West regions. At the last general election 80% of the areas facing local elections this year elected a Tory MP – compared to just 11% electing a Labour MP – making their seats nearly doubly overrepresented and Labour seats massively underrepresented.

In 2009 when the majority of seats were last contested the actual Labour share of the vote was 13% – I think we can safely say we will make progress.

Our total seats won in 2009 was less than 150 and if we can more than double that haul in one go then it shows real progress in the Tory heartlands.

We will show Ed Miliband’s One Nation Message can win us seats in all parts of our country.

But no-one should be surprised if after the results are in, the share of the vote is close between the Conservatives and the Labour Party.

Local by-elections have shown in these areas the Conservative vote has held up better since 2010 and indeed been boosted by a swing from the Liberal Democrats.

A good performance for us would be about 200 net gains. 250 tops.

But the real test is how David Cameron is doing outside his shrinking heartlands.

In key midlands battlegrounds we will see whether David Cameron can hang onto working class voters who felt let down by Labour in 2010.

Let’s see what the people of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire think of Mr Cameron’s coalition after three years.

Let’s see how Labour performs in the key seats we need to win to form a government.

Let us see if they like the idea of giving a tax cut to millionaires while families living standards and incomes are squeezed.

Eastleigh was a warning light to Captain Cameron on his cruise liner that his Conservative party chums are shrinking into their shire heartlands – and even there they are not safe.

I think these elections will start the red lights flashing all over the control panels.

The Liberal Democrats may be shouting from the deck, powerless to control the direction they are being taken.

Yet this week, after campaigning with candidates in Worcestshire, Gloucestershire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Leicestershire, Lancashire,Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire I can tell you, there’s only one place the Liberal Democrats are heading: the rocks.

Tom Watson is Deputy Chair of the Labour Party, and the party’s Campaign Co-ordinator

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