Local election polls across more than 230 councils opened across England this morning. With ballots being cast from 7am-10pm, today’s election marks the first year where voters are required to provide photo ID.
From Devon to Newcastle, more than 8,000 seats are up for election, amounting to two-thirds of the country’s local authorities. Mayoral elections are also scheduled to occur in Bedford, Leicester, Mansfield, and Middlesbrough.
Initially, the elections for the 11 councils in Northern Ireland were set to take place today too. However, due to the Coronation of King Charles III, the elections were postponed until 18 May. There are no elections in Scotland or Wales this year.
The importance of local elections
Councillors are local representatives elected to take responsibility for services in the area such as roads, rubbish collection and housing.
But, beyond local matters, local elections also provide an insight of public perception of the government – some councils have become key battlegrounds, such as Swindon Borough Council, a target area for the Labour Party.
Key areas to also look out for include Thurrock, North East Lincolnshire, Plymouth, Medway, Stoke-on-Trent, Tameside, South Gloucestershire, Solihull, Torbay, Gravesham, Cherwell, Bolsover, Leicester, Cheshire West and Chester.
In total, 3,363 Conservative seats are up for grabs, while Labour has 2,140 seats up, and the Liberal Democrats have 1,221. The Labour Party’s 18-point lead over the Conservatives presents an opportunity for Keir Starmer to seize.
Moreover, the Liberal Democrats are hoping to gain support from softer Conservative voters. The Liberal Democrats have focused their campaign efforts in the so-called “blue wall” commuter-belt constituencies, including regions like Surrey and Oxfordshire. Their aim is to gain support from softer Conservative voters who are disenchanted with the party’s recent turmoil and its shift towards the authoritarian right.
In a similar situation, the Green Party is expecting more net wins than the nearly 200 they gained in 2019. For the first time, they could secure majority control of a council in Mid Suffolk.
However, the Conservatives have not generated much enthusiasm for their local election campaign and have been in heavy expectation-management mode, anticipating losses of over 1,000 seats. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak predicted a “tough night” and said voters would “make us sweat”.
Some commentators suggest that even a loss of 500 seats could potentially undermine Sunak’s authority. In an effort to temper expectations, Sunak announced on Wednesday evening that the results would be “hard for us” and admitted some Conservative councillors would lose their seats as a result of events “over the past year”.
As we await the outcomes of various council elections, many people are making their predictions. Will Labour gain the 600 or more seats they are hoping to? Or will the Conservatives defend their positioning? Will the Liberal Democrats gain soft-Tory voters, and will the Green’s make the comeback they are hoping for by gaining votes from those who have turned away from Labour and the Conservatives?