This new series of briefings will cover the elections to be held across England, Scotland and Wales on 04 May, 2017.

There will be elections to much of the English shire authorities, the principal authorities of Scotland and Wales, the six mayoral contests in England and the Metropolitan Borough of Doncaster.

This part, of three, covers England.

English Authorities

There will be 2,388 seats up for grabs for ~2,200 divisions (some of which being multi-member) on 35 authorities. 34 are county/unitary councils and one a metropolitan borough: Doncaster. 15 have undergone (mostly minor) boundary changes that have reduced seat numbers from 2013 by 26.

It needs to be noted that when passing analysis once the election results are known, the English shire authorities are not representative of England at large. The areas of which they cover are predominantly rural and more Conservative leaning than England in general. When many of these councils were up for election in 1997 for instance, the Conservatives won the most seats.

2013 results

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The last time most of these authorities were up for election was 2013, considered the ‘breakthrough’ year for UKIP when they won 147 seats from 7 in 2009. This year they will be defending 149. The extra two coming from Labour controlled Doncaster which wasn’t up in 2013. The Conservatives will be defending the most seats, at 1,119 (46% of the total). Labour will be defending 570, the Liberal Democrats 347, the Green Party 20 and a smattering of independents and smaller more local parties 209.

Map: Authorities up for election

18 of the 34 authorities up in 2013 saw Conservative majorities. A further eight had them as the largest party. Three of the 34 saw Labour majorities and two had them as the largest party. Labour will also be defending Doncaster. The remainder bar one (Isles of Scilly: independent run) are hung.

Room for Labour gains seem limited as national polling at the present has them behind the Tories, whereas in 2013 Labour were running with a lead of 7-10pts, although there are a number of interesting cases to note.

Lancashire County Council looks set to prove an interesting contest for the state of Labour who are currently the largest party. The issue of fracking in the area may allow them to pick off a few independents and marginal Tories and take overall control, but the state and swing of national polling and the loss of a Pendle seat to the Tories in a recent by-election suggests things could in fact swing completely the other way.

The majority Labour won on Nottinghamshire in 2013 (though now recently lost due to defections) also looks at risk. Mark Pack reports the Liberal Democrats and Green Party have made an electoral pact in the Broxtowe borough of the county.

Derbyshire, while on paper looks comfortably Labour, is at risk of being lost hung. Lib Dem gains in Chesterfield and the Conservatives retaking seats they lost in Amber Valley and the South Derbyshire district are certainly not out of the question, especially for the latter party given the expected fallback in the UKIP vote. The scale of gains both parties would need to remove Labour’s hold, however, is a difficult one. This’ll be one to watch.

Cornwall, electing a hefty 123 councillors, is another one to keep an eye out for. Of the eleven council by-elections to the authority since 2013, nine changed hands, six of which to the Lib Dems. While very unlikely the Lib Dems will secure a majority on the council given the diverse and localised nature of Cornish politics where independents and smaller parties have robust bases of support, it’s almost certain they will retain and build upon their position as the largest party.

Other authorities may prove fruitful for the Lib Dems. The yellows have had a history of representation in much of shire England, notably coming second to the Tories (beating Labour) back in 2009. It can’t be said for certain how well the Lib Dems will perform in these elections, but we should expect them to make a comeback in authorities they once were strong in: Devon, Somerset, Leicestershire, Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Hertfordshire and the two Sussex authorities. Their performance in Cambridge proper, the southern half of Norwich, Eastleigh in Hampshire, Harrogate in North Yorkshire and some portions of the West Country are worth watching as they may indicate where the Lib Dems could, if they do, make a parliamentary comeback.

UKIP’s poor ground organisation outside of a few choice strongholds and relative fall in the polls are likely to see them suffer net losses in council elections for the first time since 2007. The general trend that has been established for them in council by-elections does not paint a pretty picture for their 140-odd county councillors who will be defending their seats. With their newfound mission to target Labour voters, it would be interesting to see whether they can make a breakthrough onto the Ashfield and Mansfield parts of Nottinghamshire, the Burnley and Hyndburn boroughs of Lancashire, and within the Newcastle under Lyme boundaries of Staffordshire. Whether they can also defend and improve upon their strong performances in Lincolnshire (Boston, Skegness), Norfolk (Great Yarmouth), Essex (Basildon, Tendring), and the Thanet portion of Kent is yet to be seen. Organisation however, or their lack of, in my view, will be what will cost them come May. The party’s failure to win Stoke on Trent Central, a seat billed as the Brexit capital of Britain, may do harm to the motivation of UKIP leaning voters, and so only damage further their expected May performance.

As of the writing of this unbrief briefing, the Conservatives have a clear lead of more than ten points according to our national poll of polls polling model. This is in stark contrast to February 2013 when they were behind Labour by ten points. Although the polls narrowed slightly in the run-up to May (Labour’s lead was reduced to seven points), and though it’s yet to be seen whether that will be the case with the Tories this year, net gains for the government across the board do seem inevitable, regardless. It’s probably that losses from UKIP to the blues will see the Tories take back overall control of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire.

Some of the areas to watch out for may, as with the Lib Dems, offer pointers to future general election performances. The constituency of Bishop Auckland in the southern parts of County Durham is one of the more fragile Labour seats in the North East region. North East Derbyshire, Newcastle under Lyme in Staffordshire and Allerdale as well as Barrow in Cumbria (of neighbouring Copeland fame) should also be paid close attention to.

English Mayoralties

As part of new devolution deals, there are six newly established mayoral positions to be contested and filled across England, most notably of which being Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region.

These elections will operate on the contingent vote system, where voters will have two votes to rank candidates according to preference (first and second). Second preferences are counted if no candidate on first preferences has an absolute majority.

So, of these six mayoralties…

Cambridgeshire & Peterborough – A region that covers two cities (Cambridge, Peterborough) with a lot of countryside in between (Huntingdonshire, Fenland, East Cambs, South Cambs). The Conservatives (James Palmer) should be the clear favourites here with the Lib Dems and Labour fighting it out for a distant second place.

Greater Manchester – Covers Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Manchester proper, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan. Greater Manchester is almost certain to go Labour (of which Andy Burnham is the candidate), though they may just fall short on first preferences. The other parties in this region are limited to a few small pockets of support to offer any meaningful challenge to Labour here.

Liverpool City Region – The mayoralty covers the authorities of Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool proper, Sefton, St Helens, and the Wirral. Steve Rotheram, the Labour candidate, can be safe in the knowledge that this is safe as houses for his party. The Conservatives and Lib Dems will slug it out for a very distant second place.

Tees Valley – Covers the authorities of Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland, and Stockton on Tees. Labour should win this after second preferences, but as to whether UKIP or the Tories take second place is something worth watching out for.

West of England – Covers Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset, and South Gloucestershire. While the Conservatives are likely to finish ahead on first preferences, it’s nip and tuck as to whether they can pull it off and take a majority of votes, leaving the potential for a Labour or even Lib Dem mayoralty to get through on second preferences. This will be one of the more interesting races to watch.

West Midlands – The West Midlands combined authority covers Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton. Because four of the seven authorities have Labour majorities, Labour’s Sion Simon (of Take Back Control fame) is the favourite to finish ahead on first preferences, but he’s likely to be below an absolute majority of votes cast. Assuming they pick up enough second preferences from Dudley-centred UKIP voters, the Tories — whose candidate Andy Street is understood to be running a very independent campaign — do have an outside chance of winning this, but I must stress outside chance, for Labour are likely to pick up as many – if not more – second preference votes from the Lib Dems and Greens.

Polls will be open on 04 May from 0700hrs to 2200hrs. Results will be filtered through as the night progresses and the day after. If you would like to help with providing election results to our sheets on the night, do get in touch!

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