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Local polls: what happened in areas deemed 'ones to watch'?

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Before last week’s local elections psephologists Professors Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher picked out a number of councils deemed of particular interest. Here LGC rounds up what happened in some of the key battlegrounds.

Labour was optimistic of taking control of Barnet LBC for the first time since the borough’s creation in 1964. The party fell just two seats short of the Conservatives in 2014, but a swing of little more than 1% in Brunswick Park, Child Hill, and Hale wards would have delivered power at a council under no overall control.

However, Labour’s handling of of antisemitism in the party was repeatedly raised as an issue in an area with one of the largest Jewish populations in the country. This helped deliver significant victories in key wards, resulting in the Tories taking control with 38 seats to Labour’s 25, down from 30 in 2014.

Former Labour group leader Barry Rawlings said antisemitism and Labour’s perceived inaction to deal with it was a key factor in the election result. In a statement he thanked Barnet’s Jews who voted Labour, but said “too many didn’t… because they felt Labour had failed to deal with antisemitism at a national level. They are right.”

The Conservative’s dominance in Kensington & Chelsea RBC – the party polled more than 50% of the vote in 2014 – was called into question by anger over the council’s handling of the Grenfell Tower disaster, with some speculating Labour could take control.

However, a Labour surge failed to materialise despite a 9% increase in turnout and the party gained just two seats, leaving the Conservative group firmly in control with 36 of the 50 seats.

Council leader Elizabeth Campbell pledged to rebuild trust in the community, while Labour leader Robert Atkinson said he was pleased with the Labour gains from the Conservatives.

Few expected the Liberal Democrats to take back control of Richmond upon Thames LBC for the first time since 2006, even in new party leader Vince Cable’s backyard. In 2014 the Conservatives took a commanding lead by winning 39 seats to the Lib Dems 15, but national issues reportedly dominated the campaign this time in an area where 70% of people voted to remain in the European Union in 2016.

In what was largely a steady night for the Tories nationally, the Lib Dems secured a big swing to take 39 seats and 47% of the vote, leaving the Tories with 11 and the Greens four. The new Richmond upon Thames leader Gareth Roberts pledged his party would “go on to other places”.

Labour’s prime target was Trafford MBC as it was the only council in Greater Manchester under Conservative control. Activists from other safe Labour areas flooded in as the party sensed it could gain control of the council. They were also joined by many Greens after the party earmarked Altrincham as its priority ward in the North West.

The resulting imbalance of resources on the ground paid dividends for both parties as an increased turnout saw Labour take all three of its target wards and land another in Brooklands. The Greens’ two-seat gain from the Conservatives in Altrincham proved key, pushing Labour one seat above the Tories.

The council is now under no overall control but former Tory leader Sean Anstee told LGC a Labour-led administration is not “cut and dried” despite the party only needing agreement with one of either the Liberal Democrat or Green groups.

“There clearly is a requirement on all of us to speak to each other and take a view on what the best way to govern for the people of Trafford. That is what we are concentrating on,” he said.

The election also resulted in two Labour leaders of city councils losing their seats.

At Southampton City Council the surprise had symmetry as Labour leader Simon Letts, who has been in office since 2006, lost his seat to a Conservative. However, Conservative group leader Jeremy Moulton also lost his seat - to a Labour candidate.

In another surprise result, Ranjit Banwait, who was elected leader of Derby City Council in 2014, was unseated by a Ukip candidate. The ruling Labour group was set to elect a new leader on Tuesday.

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