The 2018 local elections... what happened?

by Patrick English, 04 May 2018


In all, not all that much has changed despite expectations that Labour might make some significant gains overnight. That said, there have been a fair few changes of seats within councils. At the time of writing, Labour are around 60 seats up on their 2014 performance, the Liberal Democrats up by around 50, the Greens just about in the positive, the Conservatives around 10 below their 2014 result, and UKIP down by almost 125 – losing in nearly every seat they contested at this election (as indeed they did in 2017).

According to the BBC’s ‘projected national share’, if the contest were to be held UK-wide then both of the Conservatives and Labour would have been polling at 35%, the Liberal Democrats 16%, and the other parties on 14%. On 2014, this constitutes a rise of 6% of the Conservatives, 4% for Labour, and 3% for the Lib Dems. A small swing for the Conservatives on 2014 (though a small swing to Labour from the 2017 General Election) making it a complete dead heat.

Overall, a rather disappointing night for Labour saw them struggle to make big gains, and also saw them lose control of Derby and Nuneaton & Bedworth councils. They did pick up a large number of seats in the capital and won overall control of Plymouth and Kirklees, but were unable to flip any of their target London boroughs in Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, or Wandsworth, and missed out on taking overall control in North East Lincolnshire and Stockport. Labour did do very well in areas with significant amounts of young people (aged 18-34), with a rise of nearly 11% on 2014 recorded in the BBC ‘key wards’ where the young population was over 35% of all adults (according to the 2011 UK Census).

For the Conservatives, they will be disappointed to have lost control of Trafford and suffered a range of seat losses across London, but will be encouraged by results elsewhere in Peterborough, Great Yarmouth, Redditch, and Basildon where they gained control. According to the BBC key ward analysis, their main strength came in areas with high percentages of Leave voting, rising an average of 13 points in authorities voting to leave by 60% or more in the 2016 referendum, compared with just a 0.1% rise in areas with less than 20% Leave voting.

The Liberal Democrats did a bit better than expected, taking the Richmond-upon-Thames, South Cambridgeshire, and Kingston-upon-Thames councils from the Conservatives, and picking up seats in many areas across the country – particularly in Hull (nine in total there). The party performed especially well when it was competing in Conservative controlled councils, rising an average of around 5% in key authorities with majority-Conservative administrations (compared with around 1% in Labour-held councils). In many of these areas (including the above three councils) there was a substantial Remain vote in 2016.

For UKIP and the Greens, it was a tale of contrasting fortunes as they officially traded 4th and 5th places in English politics (in terms of seats). UKIP lost in every single contest they competed in bar three. Surprisingly, in one of these victories they unseated the Labour leader of Derby Council. The Greens have reasons to be cheerful in mounting a decent defence of what was a strong 2014 result for the party. They also made gains in places such as Trafford, Worcester, and across London. They were down substantially however in Norwich – a council where they have been losing seats for quite some time now having previously built a stronghold there.

To the local issued raised in my blog before the elections. In Sheffield, the trees saga played out exactly how many expected it to with the Labour administration losing five of its councillors to anti-felling candidates in the centre and west of the city. The Greens gained two seats (on top of defending their Nether Edge and Sharrow seat of Alison Teal) while the Liberal Democrats picked up three. Labour won a seat from UKIP, meaning their majority was cut by eight seats. A clear message was sent by many voters in the city regarding their dissatisfaction with the council’s tree felling priorities.

Meanwhile in Kensington and Chelsea, very few seats changed hands. Labour were up by around 7% across the borough and turnout surged by 6%, but there was only one gain for the Labour Party as they took the second seat in St. Helen’s – just over the road from Grenfell – by a comfortable margin. A small Grenfell effect then perhaps, but nothing at all seismic.

The impact of the anti-Semitism row on the contests in Barnet and Bury produced some striking results. In Pilkington Park in Bury – the ultra-marginal ward with almost 25% Jewish population – the Conservatives won the seat from Labour with a 10% swing. They also saw a vote surge in Sedgley – where there is a 33% Jewish population – amounting to a 6% swing. In Salford, the Conservatives took the Kersal ward – over 40% Jewish – from Labour on a big swing. In Barnet, Labour failed to make advances in crucial marginal wards such as Hale – with around 20% Jewish population – and West Hendon – around 10% Jewish population – which ultimately cost them control of the council. In terms of any fallout from Windrush, we did see boroughs with high density Black voters – and particularly Black Caribbean voters – tending to break heavily toward Labour, swinging away from the Conservatives. On average where there were 5% of more of the population from such backgrounds according to the 2011 census, Labour were up by nearly 10 points and the Conservatives just by 1.

Finally, in Swindon Labour were (as with many other targets) not in the end able to take the council. There was no evidence however of the voter identification trial supressing turnout; in fact, turnout was up overall by four points, which contrasts to no real overall rise in turnout on average across the country.

In all, this was ultimately a frustrating night for Labour considering their previously lofty ambitions and bold targets prior to the event. They quite clearly still have some convincing to do – particularly outside of London – that they are indeed a government in waiting. For the Conservatives, this was a much better night that was previously anticipated. For the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, there was cause for quiet and cautious optimism, while for UKIP the electoral wipe-out writing is all over the walls. And from Sheffield to Barnet there were fascinating local stories in play which added to the interest and showed once again how important neighbourhood factors can be in council elections.


LE2018: the results

Beam me up, Scotty!