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Local elections have left things looking a bit grey

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Commentary on Tory despair - and delight for the Lib Dems and Independents.

When LGC’s Council Control Map is stuck onto council office walls in a couple of weeks’ time it is going to be rather more of a grey affair than usual, albeit with a new smattering of yellow.

At the time of writing, 31 councils have fallen into no overall control while just six of the 33 that were previously NOC now have a majority party. 

Formerly Conservative councils have been by far the biggest proponents of the growth in NOC, with there being 23 such councils, often following heavy losses to Lib Dems and/or Independents. While elections bellwethers such as Basildon BC and Worcester and Peterborough city councils regularly change hands, the party also suffered heavy losses in true blue Tory districts such as South Oxfordshire DC where it lost 23 seats, Tandridge DC in Surrey (eight) and Richmondshire DC in North Yorkshire (five).

Indeed, as the district results poured in this afternoon, the party’s tally of lost seats began to spiral. At time of writing the party had lost more than 1,100 seats, equivalent to more than a fifth of those it was defending. And loss of councils was not confined to districts: as well as Peterborough the party also lost control of Herefordshire CC, North Somerset Council and Southend-on-Sea BC. The gains of North East Lincolnshire Council and Walsall MBC offered only brief respite from the onslaught.

That’s not to say it was a good night for Labour either. The party lost eight councils to no overall control, including Darlington, Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees BC and Middlesbrough Council. With Redcar & Cleveland Council already NOC, Labour now lacks control of any council in the Tees Valley.

At just over 100 Labour losses, the headline figures are nowhere near as dramatic as those of the Tories (although it must be remembered the former party was defending fewer than half the number of seats). Nevertheless Labour should be extremely worried by this poor performance in a staunch Brexit area and by how Lib Dems and Independents chipped away at vote share to gain seats in many of its strongholds in Yorkshire and the north west. In Barnsley MBC for example, Labour’s vote share was down 18 percentage points despite the party retaining a comfortable majority.

Although the party gained Calderdale and Trafford MBCs from no overall control and saw success in the North of Tyne CA mayoral contest, they won just two councils from the party in government - Amber Valley and High Peak BCs. At this point in a parliament - and with the most dysfunctional government in living memory - this result does not suggest a party poised to sweep into Westminster should there be an election any time soon.

The winners from yesterday’s polls were undeniably the Liberal Democrats - who stormed to victory in Bath & North East Somerset Council and Chelmsford City Council and took six other councils from the Tories as well as three from no overall control – the Greens, who won more than 140 seats and gained a presence on 15 councils for the first time, and the Independents.

In 2015, the same point in the election cycle, Independents and Greens won a combined 592 seats. With nearly 50 councils still to declare they had already gained 649. Independents won outright control in Ashfield and Uttlesford DCs, from NOC and the Conservatives respectively.

Much will be written over the weekend about what these results mean for the parties nationally and what they tell us about the public’s view on Brexit. Most of this analysis will ride roughshod over the myriad local factors which play into voters’ decisions.

You would think the electorate may have had enough of living under no overall control, given that has effectively been the state of our national politics for most of the last decade. Although of course, nationally or locally, elsewhere in Europe this would be business as usual and the basis for coalition and compromise.

Let’s hope the newly disrupted council chambers have more success than has been seen in Westminster of late.

Sarah Calkin, deputy editor

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