The local elections in May 2017 were the Conservative Party’s best result in a decade, gaining almost 600 extra councillors across the country and pulling off upset victories in the West Midlands and Tees Valley mayoral races.
The stage looked set for a decent Conservative majority in the General Election a month later but, as we know, this was not to be.
One year on, 151 councils and 6 mayoral elections will take place on May 3rd. What are the significant areas to look out for and what could this tell us about the current state of each party?
All the seats in London’s 32 borough councils will be up for election, along with four directly elected borough mayors in Hackney, Lewisham, Newham and Tower Hamlets.
Whereas UK-wide polls consistently show the parties more or less level, a recent YouGov survey found that 54% of Londoners intend to vote Labour, compared to just 28% for the Conservatives.
This would put the Opposition Party’s vote share at the highest any party has achieved in London council elections since 1968. It would potentially mean the loss of at least 3 of the 10 boroughs currently held by the Tories including the flagship councils of Wandsworth and Westminster.
This is hardly surprising given that in the General Election Labour gained 4 parliamentary seats and increased their vote share in 71 of London’s 73 constituencies, while the Conservatives lost 6 seats and gained vote share in only 24 constituencies.
A report by the pollster, Lord Ashcroft, shows large parts of the London electorate are tired of Brexit (59.9% voted to remain) and angry about the impact of public spending cuts. Conservatives will be disappointed that on one of their core positions, only three in 10 voters across London see them as the party of low council tax. Only 18 per cent of voters in Tory-run boroughs think they deliver on their boast of lower bills and better services, and six in 10 Londoners, including three in 10 Tories, disapprove of the Government’s record.
But What’s Going on Elsewhere?
Predictably, the Capital has consumed the focus of political analysts at the expense of bellwether local elections further afield.
Four metropolitan boroughs, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, and Newcastle upon Tyne, will take part in ‘all-out’ elections with all their council seats contested, while 30 others across the UK will have a third of their seats up for election.
Sheffield will get its first directly elected mayor with the Labour MP for Barnsley Central and previously (pre-Corbyn) tipped future Party leader, Dan Jarvis, hoping for the Party’s nomination.
One unitary authority, Kingston upon Hull, will also stage an all-out election. A further 16 others will have a third of their seats contested.
Outside of the urban centres seven non-metropolitan districts will engage in all-outs, including the former Liberal Democrat stronghold of Eastleigh and the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd’s, constituency of Hastings while over 60 others will have partial council elections.
Why Does It Matter?
The Conservatives are expecting a bad election night in London. The only question is, how bad? The loss of the ‘crown jewels’ of Westminster and Wandsworth might well re-ignite speculation about May’s position, but might this be balanced by results outside of the Capital.
Labour controls all the metropolitan city councils which will be contested. Both Manchester and Newcastle councils are Tory-free zones but might there be further evidence of traditional Labour voters switching to the Tories out of dislike for Corbyn and support for Brexit as was seen at the General Election in some northern areas? The impact of Labour’s support for remaining in a customs union will be put to the test in Leave-voting constituencies.
If there is any sort of Lib Dem revival it may be seen in Newcastle and Hull where they have previously controlled the Council and are still the main opposition. Certainly they believe they are on the up and point to recent council by-elections as evidence where they are up a net 17 seats with the Tories down 11 and Labour flat.
Although it is likely that Labour will be celebrating on May 4th, as Teresa May found out last year, they would be mistaken to assume that this means they are on the path to regaining power nationally.