Nerves jangling in Number 10 but Mrs May will battle on

Prime minister Theresa May faces a brusing local election resultPhoto: PA

Prime minister Theresa May faces a brusing local election resultPhoto: PA - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Local elections, like any elections, matter.

Much of what affects people's lives – potholes, bin collections, planning – is the responsibility of councils. The results of the poll will have an impact on where money is spent and what the priorities are.

But sometimes the national political scene is so febrile, so tense that a panning at the local ballot box can send parties into a tailspin.

In the hours after Theresa May's calamitous conference speech last autumn a senior Tory source predicted she would not survive until Christmas. But he also told me: 'If she somehow does, a very poor showing in the locals could well spark a change of leader.'

Since then she has steadied the ship. Even if the Tories suffer the bloodiest of results Mrs May should cling on. But expect Tory nerves to be jangling louder than ever.

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It has been a tough few weeks for the government. After the PM's risky decision not to recall parliament over the air strikes on Syria broadly went in her favour, the Windrush scandal blind-sided her. It will rumble on even though the government has suffered another cabinet casualty in Amber Rudd.

But with Mrs May's popularity ratings on the up and Labour still battling claims of anti-Semitism in the ranks, will Jeremy Corbyn be able to capitalise? Labour will perform better than the Tories – sitting government's do not tend to do well in mid-term polls.

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But the question may well be, could they have done better? Mr Corbyn's continued confusion over Brexit, those anti-Semitism claims and constant in-fighting between the different wings of the party hardly make them look like a government in waiting.

And a good result in the locals does not always transpire into success in a national poll. In 2014 Ed Miliband's Labour seized the upper hand only to be beaten a year later in the general election.

In private Labour MPs fear we have reached peak-Corbyn, they are worried his and Labour's best chance to topple the Tories was last June.

But expect them to make gains across the country nonetheless – especially in London where the Tories face an embarrassing retreat.

Mr Corbyn will use the results to rally his troops and heap pressure on Mrs May. But, although battered and bruised, it will be business as usual for the government.

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