Local elections is last chance for Tories to close gap on Labour – here’s a run-down of key battleground contests

IF this year’s General Election is shaping up to be a prize political fight, then Thursday’s locals are the all-important pre-match weigh-in. 

Both Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer are desperate to show they are a force to be reckoned with – and will be carefully sizing up their chances based on the results.

Thursday’s local elections are the all-important pre-match weigh-in for political rivals Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer

There is a particular focus on several battlegrounds across England

As a final test for the main parties before the race for No10, they will prove crucial in setting the political weather for the next few months. 

While hundreds of skirmishes will take place for councils, mayoralties and police commissioners, there is a particular focus on several battlegrounds.

Mr Sunak wants to show voters – and restless Tory plotters – that he still has scope to close the gap on Sir Keir.

Whereas the Labour leader will be hoping for the colossal Blair-style swings he needs to overturn the party’s 2019 thrashing.

It’s all to play for…

Tale of two mayors

Huge attention is being placed on the two mayoral races in Tees Valley and the West Midlands.

Both are held by Tory incumbents who in recent years have been pinned up as poster boys proving the party can be successful in working-class heartlands.

GettyIn 2021 Ben Houchen stormed to victory in the race for Tees Valley mayor[/caption]

In 2021 Andy Street – a former business boss – clinched a second term as West Midlands mayor with just shy of half the vote. 

And Ben Houchen stormed to victory in the Tees Valley with a stonking 72 per cent majority that would make a Soviet dictator blush. 

While both are personally popular – and unafraid to criticise the PM at times – they are expected to be run close due to the fall of the party’s standing nationally.

If they can cling on, Mr Sunak would frame it as a major coup while Sir Keir would have fluffed the chance to claim two big Conservative scalps.

But if one or both fall to Labour, it could reignite Tory rebel calls to get rid of Mr Sunak. 

Results expected: Tees Valley 12.30pm Friday, West Midlands 3pm Saturday, 

Blackpool by-election 

The Blackpool South by-election to replace disgraced Tory Scott Benton is being held on the same day as the local elections.

Deep in the Red Wall, it was held by Labour from 1997 until 2019 when it fell to the Conservatives as part of Boris Johnson’s landslide.

GettyBlackpool will almost certainly be reclaimed by Starmer on Thursday[/caption]

It will almost certainly be reclaimed by Sir Keir Starmer on Thursday, which would be especially helpful given the early doors result will help set the narrative.

Perhaps more interesting will be the performance of Reform UK, the right-wing party founded by Nigel Farage.  

Blackpool South will be a key test on whether Reform is a real electoral force – or whether it only serves to skim votes from the Tories. 

This should be their ideal target – a Brexit-backing seaside town with working class roots, that is a free hit for Labour and Tory voters given it has no bearing on the race for No10. 

Failing to make a decent dent would weaken Richard Tice’s claim that Reform is a serious challenger in the general election. 

Result expected: 4am Friday

Hartlepool

Hartlepool has developed a symbolic status in recent years following Boris Johnson’s stunning by-election victory there in 2021. 

Standing next to a giant inflatable likeness, the then PM looked invincible and Sir Keir was so bruised at losing a once-Labour stronghold that he even considered quitting.

Three years on and Labour is on the brink of taking back the local council, which would give the party momentum to take the seat at the General.

But failing to make inroads in this North East town would give Mr Sunak a glimmer of hope he can hold on to some of the Tories’ 2019 support. 

Result expected 1am Friday

Yorkshire

A new mayor is being elected to oversee the city of York and North Yorkshire.

The area is a traditional Tory stronghold – indeed Sunak’s own safe seat of Richmond is in the area.

AFPA victory in Yorkshire would be a significant coup for Labour if they managed to pull off a victory in Rishi’s backyard[/caption]

Polls show the race is currently neck and neck between the Conservative and Labour candidates.

It would be a significant coup for Labour if they managed to pull off a victory in the PM’s backyard.

But equally if the Tories manage to get another mayoralty under their belt, they can argue they are still a winning force in their old heartlands.

Dorset

Every council seat is up for grabs in Dorset – a classic true-blue shire in the Tories’ southern fortress. 

The Conservatives currently hold all three MPs and have a slim majority on the local council.

But the Lib Dems are looking to sweep up disillusioned Tories and are throwing the kitchen sink at the contest. 

The party has traditionally done well mid-term by hoovering voters who want to the Tories a kicking without any bearing on who’s in No10.

Yet the Lib Dems will be hoping to keep them in the election.

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