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The big messages from the local elections

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With about a tenth of results in the local elections counted, three things seem to be clear. First, the Conservative party is doing worse than it feared, losing councillors at a higher rate than the worst predictions, while Labour is doing better in the marginal seats that it needs to win.

Second, Reform UK is underperforming what the polls say — but is still doing well enough to hurt the Tory party. Third, Labour is losing ground in its safest seats to the Green party in particular.

Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Read the previous edition of the newsletter here. Please send gossip, thoughts and feedback to insidepolitics@ft.com

Red red time

Labour has won the Blackpool South by-election, in what is the third biggest Conservative-to-Labour swing at a by-election. It is exceeded only by the by-elections in Dudley West in 1994 (Tony Blair) and in Wellingborough earlier this year (Keir Starmer). The Conservative vote is significantly down on 2019 and is only a touch higher than the Reform vote.

Reform has continued to underperform its polling position which indicated that it should be doing as well as Ukip did in 2014 or the Brexit party did in 2019. The party is still doing significant damage to the Conservative party’s prospects — though, equally, Labour is demonstrating that it is capable of beating the Tories with or without a Reform candidate.

The former Brexit party is dealing another bigger blow to Rishi Sunak. It further increases the pressure within the Conservative party to move the party to the right, away from the territory on which it won the 2019 election and into areas where it can’t possibly mount a successful election campaign. Fear of Reform is why the Conservative party’s closing argument before this election involved hyping up the first flight of an unsuccessful asylum seeker, reportedly of African origin, to Rwanda under the UK government’s voluntary relocation scheme. The policy — offering failed asylum claimants £3,000 to seek a new life in Rwanda — seems laboratory-designed to repel both authoritarian and liberal voters.

The other subplot of this election is that Labour also faces a challenge to its left — the Green party has made gains from Labour in what essentially everyone in the Labour party believes to be an electoral consequence of Keir Starmer’s position on the Israel-Hamas war.

When every vote is counted and the dust has settled on these elections, both Sunak and Starmer will face calls to move towards Reform and the Greens respectively. But as it stands, Starmer will be able to point to a host of gains in marginal places he needed to win, such as Hartlepool, Redditch and Ipswich, and in councils where Labour would only be winning in the event of a landslide, such as the historically Conservative Rushmoor. That should provide him a shield to stick to his preferred strategy. As more results come in today and tomorrow, Sunak will hope that the results to come provide him with a similar line of defence.

Now try this

While waiting for polls to close, I saw Sometimes I Think About Dying, in which Daisy Ridley’s compelling central performance couldn’t, for me at least, save what felt like a very routine “someone feels alienated at work — the arrival of a talkative newcomer causes them to open up a bit” plot.

However you spend it, have a wonderful weekend: back on Tuesday with much more when we have all the results (you can check for local elections updates on our liveblog feed).

Top stories today

Below is the Financial Times’ live-updating UK poll-of-polls, which combines voting intention surveys published by major British pollsters. Visit the FT poll-tracker page to discover our methodology and explore polling data by demographic including age, gender, region and more.

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