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Downing Street row over redecorations provides an odd backdrop in the run up to council elections


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The backdrop to next week’s council elections becomes increasingly more bizarre with the national spotlight focusing on who paid for the redecoration of 10 Downing Street and whether the PM had broken any rules on what MPs are required to declare.

If you didn’t know who Lulu Lytle is - and full disclosure, I didn’t - then coverage of the designgate saga provided everything you wanted and probably more than you needed.

Boris Johnson's interior design choices have come under fire. Picture PA/Stefan Rousseau
Boris Johnson's interior design choices have come under fire. Picture PA/Stefan Rousseau

The rather opaque statements from Boris Johnson himself failed to shut down the row engulfing him as he sought to move on to weightier matters away from what his taste in soft furnishings is.

It seemed to be a crisis the party couldn’t quite close the door on (maybe the drapes got in the way) despite the repetition from ministers that the PM “had been very clear” about how the redesign of his flat had been paid for.

Why should this be a factor in this week’s “Super Thursday” elections? On its own, it isn’t going to be decisive one way or another but the party’s inability to shake off the row is politically debilitating. What started as a mild discomfort turned into a nagging pain.

It shows how quickly politics moves that the other political crisis for the government - the one about consultants with direct access to senior ministers - has not quite been forgotten but has moved down the pecking order.

Amid all this bad PR, it seems that maybe the public doesn’t much care: opinion polls give the Conservatives a comfortable margin on Labour.

Ahead of Kent’s elections, it seems there has been a significant increase in requests for postal votes.

It’s tricky drawing comparisons with previous elections. It could mean that there will be an increased turnout for the poll next week. Although it may also be because voters have been encouraged to use postal voting to limit the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.

Here are what councils have told us - not all have replied to a request for details.

In Folkestone and Hythe, 20,336 people registered for a postal vote compared with 15,916 in 2017,an increase of 28%.

Dover council said it had issued 16,373 postal packs for the 2021 elections, while at the last KCC election in 2017, it issued 14,395, an increase of 14%.

It's nearly time to head to the polls
It's nearly time to head to the polls

Canterbury City Council has had 17,591 applications for postal votes, compared to 13,906 for the KCC election in 2017 - a 26% increase.

Tonbridge and Malling council said it had issued 19,500 postal packs for the elections, compared to about 16,000 in 2017.

Direct comparisons between 2017 and 2021 are difficult as four years ago, the only election was the one for Kent County Council.

Those who requested a postal vote this year might have received a pack covering both elections, regardless of whether they had asked for one.

It might suggest an increased turnout - the conventional wisdom is that postal voters are almost certain to vote and may have done so before the latest row over whether taxpayers money had been used to redecorate Downing Street.

Voter turnout for the KCC election in 2017 was 32% while the election for the Kent police and crime commissioner in 2016 was just over 20%.

'There are said to be nerves jangling in odd places like Tunbridge Wells...'

It would be nice to think that these modest figures will be surpassed next week.

It’s time for a bit of crystal ball gazing. Who will be the winners and who will be the losers at the elections?

The notion that the county council will be under new management is pretty fanciful. The Conservatives will retain control but there could be one or two surprises and the majority may not be quite as high as it is.

There are said to be nerves jangling in odd places like Tunbridge Wells; while Canterbury seems to be reverting to a three-way fight in the divisions being contested there.

It is hard to look past anything but a victory for the Conservatives in the police and crime commissioner election. Some think if its candidate doesn't get through on the first round, it could be quite tight

Head to our politics page for expert analysis and all the latest news from your politicians and councils.

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