Looking ahead to May’s local vote

With David Cameron poised to form the first majority Conservative government for almost a quarter of a century, his local government colleagues added 28 local authorities and more than 500 extra councillors to their tally.

By contrast, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats fell back, in keeping with their lacklustre General Election showing, whereas UKIP racked up more than 100 gains and finished in third place in votes (though not in seats) across all types of authority.

The party took majority control of its first council (Thanet) even as Nigel Farage was failing to get elected in its South constituency.

One upshot of these results was that the two largest parties (Labour and the Conservatives) became more dominant in English local government than at any stage since reorganisation in the early 1970s. They ran more than four in five of all councils and shared a party affiliation with 82 per cent of all councillors. That pattern has continued to this day and is unlikely to change much in May.

Instead, the focus will be on how far Labour can eat into Conservative territory, both to narrow the gap between them on the LGA’s boards and committees and to demonstrate that the party has a credible chance of winning a General Election.

Labour does not have much room to advance in the metropolitan boroughs, but it needs to up its share of seats significantly in the districts closer to the 20 per cent mark. That may sound paltry, but compares with 17 per cent in 2011 and just 15 per cent four years ago.

The direct comparison with 2015 should not be overdone, though. There are wholesale boundary changes in 56 of the 248 councils with elections and another 20 whose boundaries were revised in 2016 or 2018; no elections at all in districts within Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire pending reorganisation; and five newly amalgamated councils (two unitaries and three districts) holding their inaugural contests.

All this could yet be disrupted by Brexit. It is possible that a General Election will be held on 2 May itself, or even earlier. If the UK postpones implementation of Article 50, we might find ourselves voting in European Parliament elections on 23 May – and it is a sure bet that the local elections would be held over until then too, if that is the case.

Councillors will bemoan that this detracts attention from the vital choices that electors need to make about their local governance, but sadly that is but a minor blip among the current uncertainties.

For all the latest by-election results in full, including a spreadsheet of voting statistics, please download the excel spreadsheet of results.

local by-elections
Charnwood, Anstey
CON GAIN FROM LIB DEM
1.6% over Lab
Turnout 18.8%
Cumbria, Kent Estuary
LIB DEM HELD
32.1% over Con
Turnout 44.2%
East Sussex, Bexhill West
IND HELD
20.3% over Con
Turnout 38%
Rother, Bexhill St Marks
IND HELD
28.9% over Con
Turnout 43%
South Lakeland, Arnside & Milnthorpe
LIB DEM HELD
27.5% over Con
Turnout 44.2%
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