Nearly half of the councils in England that held elections on Thursday counted their results overnight, while the rest (along with all councils in Scotland and Wales) are counting today. The early results have shown a series of key losses, with the Conservative vote share down by four per cent since the last elections of these seats in 2018.
The Labour Party made a series of key, symbolic gains in London, taking Wandsworth, Westminster and Barnet councils from the Conservatives. Barnet, with its large Jewish demographic marked a significant electoral test for Keir Starmer’s new look Labour, following the culture of anti-Semitism that many felt to be rife in the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn. Likewise, victory in Westminster (for the first time since the council was created in 1964) marked a significant coup for Labour. These losses led one Tory MP to comment: “The PM is to blame, no one else and there are now 19 Tory London MPs while will be baying for blood. The PM is killing our traditional vote.”
Keir Starmer described the elections as “a massive turning point” for Labour, saying his party is “back on track” for the next general election, which is currently scheduled for 2024.
Shades of Purple
While the Prime Minister acknowledged that the Conservatives had a “tough night in some parts of the country”, many senior Conservatives will be comforted by the fact that the loss of support for the Conservatives has not (to the extent some predicted), translated into Labour advances. While Labour made significant gains in the capital, there were bluer skies for the Conservatives in the North, where Labour’s vote share fell by three per cent. While Keir Starmer is likely to trumpet Labour’s victory in Cumberland, their failure to make advances in high profile ‘Red Wall’ areas such as Hartlepool, Ipswich, and Redditch should leave a pit in the stomach of Labourites.
Labour MP Shabanna Mahmood insisted that moral in the party was strong and that, based on incoming vote shares overlayed with parliamentary constituencies in the North, the Labour party would be on track to win key seats in Workington, Carlisle, Great Grimsby and more.
But despite these optimistic reactions, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Labour party still has a lot of ground to cover in the North of England, if it is to form a majority government in 2024. Indeed, while the Conservatives have certainly taken a blow, it has been the Liberal Democrats and the Greens who have registered very significant advances. At the time of writing, the Liberal Democrats have gained 124 councillors across England, more than any other party, while the Greens have gained 45 seats.
Scotland and Northern Ireland
Conservative fortunes have not fared much better north of the border. At the time of writing, with 19 of 32 Scottish councils declared, the Conservatives have lost 51 councillors. Commenting on these losses, Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross said: “From people I’ve spoken to it’s very clear, Partygate was the dominating issue here”.
Contrastingly, Scottish Labour will be very happy with the progress made tonight, as Labour won overall control of West Dunbartonshire Council. The single transferable vote system in Scotland is not conducive to large (or even small) majorities. In 2017, no party managed to win a majority on any Scottish councils. The SNP are the only other party to take majority control of a council after victory in Dundee.
Results are also beginning to come in from Northern Ireland. At the time of writing, with 15 sears reporting, Sinn Fein have won 10 seats while both the DUP and the Alliance Party have 2 seats. While a unionist party has always beent he largest in the assembly (and before that the Stormont Parliament) since 1921, Sinn Fein look well on track to become the largest party in Northern Ireland. The DUP have argued that a win for Sinn Fein would bring a referendum on Irish reunification, however Sinn Fein has targeted the cost-of-living crisis in its campaigning. With Sinn Fein set to nominate Northern Ireland’s next First Minister, only time will tell what this means for the union.
Based on the data coming in from councils, the BBC calculated their ‘projected national share’, an assessment of what share of the vote each party would have got if local elections were held in every ward in Britain. The PNS had Labour at 35%, the Conservatives at 30% and the Liberal Democrats at 19%, while all others accounted for 16%.
This marks Labour’s greatest victory on this measure since 2012, when it had a seven per cent lead over the Conservatives (38 per cent vs 31 per cent). However, Labour’s share of 35% is also the same as it was in 2018, when Jeremy Corbyn was leader. The Liberal Democrats however, enjoyed their best performance in the PNS since 2010, when it went into coalition with the Conservatives.
While some will likely overstate Labour’s failures to take advantage of the Conservative slump in popularity, this was certainly not the sort of PM killing local election that some had forecasted. The Conservatives were always unlikely to lose a great number of seats as they were defending far fewer wards than Labour.