2016's Council By-Elections, a roundup

When it comes to council by-elections, 2016 has been unquestionably a good year for the Liberal Democrats.

There have been 317 principal authority by-elections and deferred council contests held over the course of this year. Cornwall stands out as the authority with the most number of by-elections held, at seven.

Council by-elections happen for a number of reasons. From the passing away or resignation of the incumbent to disqualification and arrest, some come with more interesting stories to tell than others.

The Lib Dems made a net gain of 29 seats for 2016, taking home 52. The Conservatives won 106, down 33. Labour, too, suffered a net loss, winning 100 but being down seven. UKIP have a net loss of three, Plaid Cymru a net gain of three and the Scottish Nationalists break even, losing four and gaining four. A smattering of independents, minor parties and local groupings net ten.

Chart: Total council by-election wins by party in 2016

The Lib Dem success came mainly at the expense of the Conservatives. Of the 32 gains made, 22 came from the Tories, five from Labour. When charting the gains by date, 24 of the 32 were made following the referendum on EU membership.

PartySeats to defendSeats heldSeats lostSeats gainedNET
Conservative139895017-33
Labour107852215-7
Liberal Democrat2320332+29
UKIP13496-3
Green1-12+1
SNP7344-
Plaid Cymru33-3+3

Council by-election results in their bulk should not be taken with a pinch of salt or as an overruling reflection of national public opinion. It is safe to say however that a trend has developed with regards to a ‘Lib Dem fightback’ but we should be cautious about jumping to conclusions. Whether the Liberal Democrat success is down to a shift in public opinion or because the party is commendable at focusing resources on by-election campaigns is yet to be seen. Our polling model does show a slight uptick in national support for the party and of the last 10 polls, two have them in double figures.

There will be a better opportunity at drawing conclusions come May of next year where there will be council elections in England (much of the shire authorities), Scotland (all ups) and Wales (all ups).

You can find every headline result of council by-elections held during 2016 in our summary sheet here. Please direct any spotted errors or omissions to our contact page.


Edited 28/12: Article edited to account for numerical error. Conservative council by-election holds originally listed to be 87 when in fact 89.


Theresa May, five months on

Five months since Theresa May’s ascendancy to Downing Street, the public’s impressions of her are more positive than negative but waver slightly in the face of growing opposition.

Ipsos Mori’s satisfaction tracker show the new Prime Minister has over the course of the past five months – with the exception of October (where it was 48 per cent) – had half or more of voters indicating satisfaction with her premiership. This is not particularly remarkable when satisfaction with David Cameron in the first five months of his premiership was also 50 per cent and above before falling to the mid-40s and high-30s as his administration continued.

One month following May’s ascendancy 27 per cent of voters could not say whether they were satisfied or dissatisfied with her performance. By December this had fallen to 15 per cent, with much of the August bench-sitters seemingly moving towards dissatisfaction. August had her at 54 per cent satisfaction, 19 per cent dissatisfaction. December has it 50 and 35 per cent respectively.

Chart: Public opinion on how well the Prime Minister is doing at her job, month by month

When asking voters whether they have a favourable or unfavourable opinion of the Prime Minister, 41 per cent told a ComRes survey in December they have a favourable view (down 1 point from August), 30 per cent said unfavourable (up 6). Whether you ask voters about satisfaction or favourability, Theresa May can take heart that she has net positivity in both areas but must be aware that attitudes are beginning to, slowly, shift against her.

Public perceptions of May, while mostly good, are not exclusively so. A recent Opinium survey (13-16 Dec) showed she is seen by a great deal of the public as decisive, strong, principled, able to get things done, able to stand up for Britain abroad, and someone with the nation’s interests at heart. She is not, however, seen as in touch, possessing of views similar to most voters,  or representative of public opinion.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn fares worse than May in most categories but beats her on perceptions of principle and being in touch with ordinary people.

Chart: Public perceptions of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn

Despite some comical process stories and perceptions that her government is handling Brexit badly, Theresa May is seen as strong, decisive, capable and has a net satisfaction rating of +15 (Ipsos Mori, Dec). Whether these positive perceptions will continue or collapse in 2017 is yet to be seen.


Resources used:
Ipsos Mori polling
ComRes polling
Opinium polling
AmCharts
Photo: PA