BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 05.05.02

Film: LOCAL ELECTIONS FILM. David Grossman reports on the Conservative's performance in the local elections.

DAVID GROSSMAN: In the TV studios, even before the results were in, the frantic spinning began. Each party claiming the night was theirs. Iain Duncan Smith - in his first big test as leader - determined to put on a good show. So do the Conservatives have a right to be happy with their performance? In bold figures they appear to have done rather well. While overall, Labour lost three hundred and thirty nine seats, the Liberal Democrat total was up just forty four seats, the Conservatives performed best, gaining two hundred and thirty eight seats and control of a further nine councils. And if we look at the national share of the vote, again the Conservatives at least came out just ahead, Labour are on thirty three per cent, the Liberal Democrats on twenty seven per cent, but the Tories are in first place on thirty four per cent. But the local elections didn't set the Tory leadership dancing in the streets here outside Central Office, and for a very good reason. Despite winning some seats, the party failed to take control of some of their target councils, like Trafford and Wolverhampton and the Conservatives actually lost control of some heartland councils like Cheltenham, Eastbourne and Worthing. Indeed on some measures at least, Iain Duncan Smith has actually made little or no improvements on the party left to him by William Hague. PETER KELLNER: The real problem for the Conservatives is that for an opposition party to be challenging for power at the next election, they need in these interim elections to be getting well over forty per cent of the vote. What did they get on Thursday, a projected share of thirty four per cent. Two years ago, similar elections, William Hague as leader, the Conservatives scored thirty eight per cent and they still went on a year later, to be hammered in the General Election. The Conservatives are way, way short of where they need to be, at this stage in the Parliament, if they're really to be challengers for power at the next General Election. GROSSMAN: So why aren't voters returning to the Conservatives in the kind of numbers the party will need to have a chance of winning the next General Election. Well, the BBC has commissioned some opinion polling to find out how people see Iain Duncan Smith and his party and for the Conservatives the results make depressing reading. If Tony Blair has set the Tories a political mountain to climb, it seems at the moment Iain Duncan Smith has barely got his boots on. When voters were asked which Party: Is in touch with the views of ordinary people? Only eleven per cent thought the Conservatives were. When asked which party has the right leadership team? Only fourteen per cent replied Conservative. And on specific issues, the results were just as bad - for example only thirteen per cent of voters thought the Tories could be trusted to run the NHS? KELLNER: It's quite clear from all the polling evidence that the Conservative Party is still out of it, as far as most voters are concerned. They don't think the Conservative Party is sensible, or credible, or in any way with better policies than Labour. It's got a huge image problem it has to overcome in the next three years before the next General Election. GROSSMAN: Local elections over then for another year. The night's results weren't a disaster for the Tories, but did show the party has a huge amount of work still to do.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.