Authorities to keep an eye on

by Ben Walker, 03 May 2018


Today polls across London and much of urban England open in what looks set to be an interesting smorgasburg of local elections. Patrick English has taken a look at Sheffield, Kensington & Chelsea, Barnet, Bury and Swindon for Britain Elects, and Andrew Teale has previewed the mayoral elections and locals in Greater Manchester.

Below I’ve taken a look at a number of authorities worth keeping an eye on as the night progresses.


Plymouth

2014: Con 30.3%; Lab 30.8%; LDem 0.9%; UKIP 31.1%
Seats up: Con 9; Lab 7; UKIP 3

Labour is no stranger to having a majority in Plymouth. Conservative until 2012 and Labour until 2015, the city went hung and then came back to the Tories with the defection of three UKIP councillors. Labour are hopeful of taking back control through the three seats they lost to UKIP in 2014, and what with being behind in all of them by a few hundred votes, a Labour gain in Plymouth seems almost certain.

The Tories, like UKIP, also seem to be the ones at risk of falling back this year, with Budshead ward, a seat won from Labour in 2014 thanks to what appears to have been vote splitting by the purples (Con 35%; Lab 31%; UKIP 32%), also at risk of being repainted red.

Dudley

2014: Con 29.1%; Lab 32.1%; LDem 0.9%; UKIP 32.4%
Seats up: Con 7; Lab 7; UKIP 10

The Conservatives performed admirably in both Dudley constituencies last year, boosting their vote share in June by 16pts in the north (Lab held) and 13pts in the south (Con held). With seven UKIP seats at threat of being lost (though I understand they still have a very active operation in the borough) and a history of the Tories being serious competitors, notably topping the poll every time the council went to the electorate in the previous decade, it’s understandable the blues are bullish about becoming the largest party here, if not taking overall control. Though they technically already govern the authority with tacit support from the Kippers, this is one to keep an eye on.

It should also be worth keeping a a lookout for the performance of the now suspended Conservative candidate for Cradley & Wollescote ward…

Birmingham

2014: Con 22.7%; Lab 43.7%; LDem 14.7%; UKIP 13.6%; Grn 3.4%
Seats up: Con 29; Lab 80; LDem 10; Ind 1

Though playing host to a Conservative mayor for the West Midlands region, Birmingham is unlikely to see much headway by the Tories this year. The success of said mayor more so appears to have been a consequence of personality politics, a Labour party sitting at 25 per cent in the polls nationally and UKIP votes from the Black Country. A poor performance by the Tories in the city last June put paid to the idea of Birmingham being fertile ground outside Sutton Coldfield.

Following boundary changes, 101 seats are up for grabs and Conservative losses appear probable. It is understood the leader of their group, representing a ward in Erdington, is in for the fight of his political life. I hear Tory activists too are worried about their seats in Edgbaston and Northfield. Labour hegemony will likely continue.

Trafford

2014: Con 38.8; Lab 38.2; LDem 7.8; UKIP 5.9; Grn 9.2
Seats up: Con 12; Lab 9; LDem 1

On paper Trafford should be an easy win for Labour but the Tories have a history of over-performing in local elections here. Altrincham and Sale West, the constituency which covers much of the borough, is one of the rare 28 seats in Britain to have seen the Tories suffer a fall in vote share last June.

The two seats which represent the Davyhulme area, generally reliably Conservative, are understood to be both at risk and a target of Labour’s. With only a majority of two, the Tories shouldn’t be surprised at losing control of this borough, though do stay up to see whether they will have as bad a night as losing largest party status to Labour…

Stockport

2014: Con 23.2; Lab 29.2; LDem 26.1; UKIP 13.3; Grn 4.2
Seats up: Con 4, Lab 7, LDem 9; Ind 1

No party will attain a majority in Stockport so long as the authority remains split three ways, and there is no impression of any party at risk of losing — or gaining — much ground. Labour are competitive in Offerton ward, particularly with the Lib Dem incumbent standing down, but unless there’s a seismic loss of support for either the yellows or blues, little will change: Labour will continue to govern as a minority.

Kirklees

2014: Con 26.9; Lab 38.5; LDem 12.5; UKIP 4.5; Grn 11.8
Seats up: Con 7; Lab 10; LDem 5; Grn 1; Ind 1

and…

Calderdale

2014: Con 30.1; Lab 33.0; LDem 12.4; UKIP 11.1; Grn 6.9
Seats up: Con 6; Lab 9; LDem 1; Ind 1

Both authorities are worth watching out for as a barometer of the parties’ performances in the towns of the north, that being Halifax, Dewsbury, Batley and Huddersfield. The Tories are understood to be putting resources into their Calderdale operation but writing off Kirklees; and Labour, following a very poor showing in Calderdale in 2016, are also bullish of making gains. Labour, needing only a net gain of one, seem pretty confident about taking control of Kirklees.

Great Yarmouth

In 2014 UKIP all but swept Great Yarmouth, taking ten seats and leaving the Conservatives to sneak by with two and Labour one. The vote splits had UKIP 41%, Lab 29%, Con 27%.

This year, what with there being little chance of the purples holding the line, we will likely see the Tories consolidate their position as the majority party on the authority. The borough’s constituency MP Brandon Lewis last year saw his vote improve 11pts on 2015, with UKIP’s falling 17pts and Labour’s up 7pts.

Basildon

2014: Con 35.0; Lab 20.8; LDem 4.7; UKIP 39.0
Seats up: Con 5; UKIP 10

Basildon stands as one of the few last UKIP strongholds in Britain… or, rather, it was one of the few UKIP strongholds.

The party suffered collapse in the area during the Essex county contests of last year, and there’s yet to be any indication today shan’t be a repeat. What is worth keeping a look-out for however is where UKIP’s votes will go. Basildon once played the part of bellwether constituency in general elections, but now the two seats which represent the town are held by Conservative MPs with majorities north of 20pts, and until 2014 Basildon saw Labour make inroads, with the party in 2012 netting four of 15 seats up for contest.

Thurrock

2014: Con 28.2; Lab 30.0; LDem 2.5; UKIP 39.0
Seats up: Con 5, Lab 6, UKIP 5

Thurrock, on the other hand, down the road on the way to London, is forever a marginal constituency. Another one of UKIP’s former strongholds, it recently saw witness to the local party recently going rogue during the Henry Bolton days and standing as independents.

Conservative (re)gains from UKIP are more likely than Labour gains here, but nothing should be ruled out. With the ‘Thurrock Independents’ throwing a spanner into the works and an ever changing electorate, your guess is as good as mine.

Kingston upon Thames

2014: Con 33.9; Lab 15.8; LDem 26.8; UKIP 11.4; Grn 10.6
Seats up: Con 28; Lab 2; LDem 18

An impressive comeback for the Liberal Democrats last year in Richmond Park and Kingston & Surbiton suggests the party pipping control from the Tories this year is a near certainty. An ever existing Lib Dem local presence in the area and an anti-Brexit backlash from 2015 Tory voters appears to be what’s driving the fightback for the yellows here.

As to how much of a win for the Lib Dems Kingston will give is yet to be seen, but some campaigners on the ground tell me the Tories are on course to lose up to 20 of their 28 seats. I’ll… wait for the results.

Westminster

2014: Con 41.0%; Lab 33.5%; LDem 6.3%; UKIP 3.9%; Grn 13.5%
Seats up: Con 44; Lab 16

Ohboy.

I think it’s a… fair assertion to say that much of the media and ‘online activist’ focus recently has been on the prospect of Labour taking Westminster City Council, an authority that since its creation in 1964 has stayed stoically Conservative.

Labour gains are likely, but to my eye only seem to be guaranteed in the northern half of the authority (such potential already proven by the reds turning Westminster North into a safe seat last June). This wouldn’t be enough to see them take control, however…

As has been attested in previous years in previous contests, the overbearing presence of the personal votes of incumbent councillors impact and often blunt or exaggerate anticipated swings. The Tory councillors in Westminster have proven themselves to outperform their parliamentary equivalents, notionally ‘topping/winning’ that same Westminster North parliamentary area in 2014, and so expected uniform swings to Labour (as the first YouGov poll for the Mile End Institute had suggested) might not be as forthcoming as some may so wish.

The incumbency bonus, however, may not be much of a card available to the Tories this year, for 14 of their 44 councillors will not be contesting their seats, making the route for a Labour win easier, but still in no way certain.

Westminster is one to watch. For Labour to win Westminster will be a symbolic mark on the changing politics of London, be they for reasons of demographics, Brexit, or otherwise.

Wandsworth

2014: Con 39.8%; Lab 32.2%; LDem 7.7%; UKIP 5.7%; Grn 12.6%
Seats up: Con 41, Lab 19

Labour needs to make 12 gains from the Tories to take overall control of Wandsworth. Inner London polling puts the borough on a knife-edge of going red, and both Labour and Tory sources tell me the same, that too many wards are too close to call.

For Labour to net the 12 gains needed requires a swing of close to 10pts. The most recent YouGov voting intention has the inner London swing to Labour at around 8pts.

If London voted the same way as it did in the general election, with the same turnout from the same set of demographics, then Wandsworth would most likely go Labour — as would Westminster and Barnet, but this isn’t a general election and turnout across the English authorities is anticipated to be half that of the GE. To give the cop out answer, whichever party turns out their vote best is the party which will win Wandsworth.


Britain Elects will be with you throughout the night covering the results as they come in. Be sure to keep an eye on our vote and seat tracker for the ward-by-ward results (assuming the website doesn’t break again). See you on the other side.