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Rallings & Thrasher: Labour facing historic county election losses

Jeremy Corbyn
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Recent local election results suggest that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are both on course to make gains at this May’s local elections in England, whereas Labour and UKIP are likely to take a hit.

Labour faces a tough time in Scotland and Wales too where both the nationalist parties and the Conservatives could pick up seats. Taken overall, Labour looks certain to be the first opposition party to lose ground at local elections for three years in succession.

Total 2370 seats in 34 councils by Charlotte Thomas

 

Some 2,370 seats in 34 councils across England are up for grabs. These comprise 27 county councils and six ‘former county’ unitary authorities plus the Labour controlled Doncaster MBC. In every case the whole council is being chosen.

warwick castle may 2016

Warwick Castle

The Conservatives need to gain seven seats to win outright control of Warwickshire CC

Except in Doncaster this year’s contests reprise those last fought in 2013 when the UKIP electoral insurgence first became apparent. Although UKIP only won about 140 of the available seats, it registered a vote share in excess of 20% (easily beating the Liberal Democrats) and shocked the political establishment. The Conservatives fell back and Labour’s performance – though better than four years earlier when it was still in government - was patchy at best.

In Scotland and Wales 2012 is the relevant year for comparison. In Scotland Labour won fewer seats than the SNP, but took overall control in 4 councils (South Lanarkshire has since been added to that total) against just two for the nationalists. In Wales, on the other hand, Labour made over 200 net gains and took several more councils.

In the 4 years before 2013 the Conservatives had an overall majority in every English county except Cumbria. They cannot expect to repeat such dominance now, but several of the 10 counties that slipped away then might reappear in their column.

Seats: Local election results in England at this phase of cycle 2005-2013 by Charlotte Thomas

 

That is especially the case where it was UKIP victories that deprived them. There is unlikely to be a reprise of the double figure return for UKIP in Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk CCs, for example, and all three should be Conservative gains. It would take only a small movement for the Conservatives to win East Sussex and Oxfordshire CCs outright too.

National equivalent vote at local elections 2009-2016 by Charlotte Thomas

 

Most of the English counties are hardly natural Labour territory - the party could manage fewer than half the number of seats as the Conservatives even at the same time as winning the 2005 general election. Currently it controls only Derbyshire and Durham CCs, and is the largest party in just four other English councils with elections. Its best hopes must be in more industrialised counties such as Lancashire and Nottinghamshire where only a couple of gains are required and where there is a history of Labour local governance. Staffordshire CC too was under long-term Labour control until 2009, but the party is now somewhat behind the Conservatives.

city of lancaster (2)

City of Lancaster

Labour’s best hopes must be in more industrialised counties such as Lancashire

Warwickshire CC (one of our councils to watch) will be a big test for both major parties. It was the Conservative-hold in Nuneaton on general election night 2015 that made it plain that Labour could not win, but now the Conservatives appear to be only just ahead on the newly drawn county division boundaries. Labour has never been in control here, but cannot afford to be seen to fall back further.

The Liberal Democrats have made no fewer than 33 net gains in local by-elections since last May and have frequently registered swings in their favour of over 20%. They have regained their position as the third party in local government (and often the Conservatives’ closest challengers), but have a long way to go to rebuild support to its pre-2010 level. As in the 1980s they are focusing on a bottom up approach with assiduous local campaigning seen as the key to victory. It is to some of their former strongholds that we should look for any signs of a real turnaround.

By-elections and defections have left them comfortably the largest party on Cornwall Council with scope to add to that tally. In Somerset CC they will be aiming at least to win more seats than the Conservatives in a county they controlled in the late 1990s and again in the four years to 2009.

In Scotland, scope for dramatic seat change is limited by the proportional (STV) electoral system, but Labour will be down by a couple of dozen or more seats with the SNP picking up both seats and overall control of some councils. Wresting Glasgow City Council from Labour would be the big prize, but the party hovers just a couple of seats from a majority in places like Clackmannanshire, Falkirk, and Stirling councils. The Conservatives could also make modest progress.

In Wales, Labour is defending a high water mark in its support. Much of rural Wales remains dominated by Independent and local party candidates, but last year’s Welsh Assembly results suggest that all parties (including UKIP who had just two councillors elected in 2012) could make gains at Labour’s overall expense. Indeed it’s entirely possible that Labour will lose more seats in Wales than in England and see their majority cut very sharply even in some of their heartland valleys’ councils.

*A wealth of additional information, including the local electoral history of every council in the country, can be found on our website ww.electionscentre.co.uk

 

County councils – all seats (1787 in total) in 27 councils. 13 counties have changed boundaries. Unitary councils – all seats (528 in total) in 6 councils by Charlotte Thomas
Metropolitan borough – all seats (55 in total) in Doncaster (Labour controlled) by Charlotte Thomas
Scotland and Wales by Charlotte Thomas

 

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