This is the first England wide test of electoral opinion since last year’s snap general election. Seats on around 150 councils and according to Britain Elects 4,425 seats will be up for grabs, 40 per cent (1,833) of which are in London. This includes most seats in the city conurbations, such as all 32 London boroughs, as well as every seat in the metropolitan districts of Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle.
London, is touted as one of the “hottest battlegrounds” with every borough council seat up for grabs this Thursday, however, is this really the case? Labour is on course for its best performance in 40 years in London, according to fresh polls that show Jeremy Corbyn’s party enjoying a 22 per cent lead over the Conservatives. Labour gained control of 6 councils and added 300 councillors in 2014, where the Conservatives lost 236 and lost 11 councils. So will it simply be the continued consolidation of the Labour gains we have seen in successive elections? Some places that are vulnerable to change are Barnet with a slim majority, and Kensington and Chelsea, where the Tories have a 24-seat majority but could be facing a fight as voters are expected to vote in anger at the handling of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Somewhere else interesting to watch is Westminster, as this is a (potentially symbolic) target for Labour.
More locally in the Midlands, Amber Valley in Derbyshire and Tamworth are all narrowly held by the Conservatives at the moment; and Labour is also targeting councils currently under no overall control where it is the largest party, such as Dudley and Walsall. Birmingham is one to watch, as the numbers of seats are reduced and this swing area may be even more unpredictable.
Generally, I would expect that the pattern will broadly follow the last elections and consolidate those results, rather than major shake ups, however, there is a backdrop that UKIP’s vote has collapsed and where their voters will go isn’t too clear. But the Conservatives have not recovered from the 2017 election and the ongoing Windrush issues hang heavy over them nationally. Local elections are always difficult for those in power, and with 8 years in charge, sufficient time has passed for the Conservatives to be held accountable for the state of the country. But can these results inform our opinion of national sentiment? This is far harder to judge as people tend more towards Labour in local elections, Brexit is less applicable to local politicians but driving national opinions, and austerity continues to bite but is the electorate blaming the Government or Local Councils?
The march of the mayors also continues with another city mayor being voted on in the Sheffield City region, with Dan Jarvis standing for Labour, continuing the trend for more centrist leading labour politicians being fielded for City Mayor roles (Read Professor Simon Collinson’s blog on Metro Mayors: Can they address UK Regional Inequality?).
Voter ID trials
The latest innovation in voting is ID trials, 5 areas are affected – Bromley, Gosport, Swindon, Watford and Woking. Interestingly different forms of ID are accepted at different places, from standard photo ID to a debit card, the results of the trials will inform a national policy, but will be interesting to see how the trials are evaluated and what happens if they aren’t successful in terms of the vote result and national rollout. Less than two weeks before the first election trial, the Equality and Human Rights Commission have cautioned it could have a “disproportionate impact” on voters from minority groups. The government’s response can be found here. A number of charities and campaign groups are also opposed to the change and include Age UK, Stonewall, Liberty and the Salvation Army. Local elections are already notoriously difficult to get engagement and turnout; will another barrier further disenfranchise a beleaguered electorate?
Overall, these are potentially the last major elections before Brexit, and it will be interesting to see how this affects and plays out in the voter intentions, and how the liberals will perform considering they are the only outright anti-Brexit party, versus Labour who favour a ‘softer’ Brexit.
This blog was written by Rebecca Riley, Administrative Director, City-REDI, University of Birmingham.
The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI or the University of Birmingham.
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