by Luke Dickinson, of Twitter’s PolMapsInfoUK.

The City of York Council has been one of the most interesting councils in Britain over the last two decades. It has gone from Labour to Lib Dem to Labour to now Conservative with Lib Dem. The election on May 2nd will likely be another interesting result. In this preview I will take you through the wards that are safe, and then the wards that will likely decide the result.

The York Independents are former Conservatives; the Independent Socialists York are former Labour; the most northern and western independents are a former Conservative and a former Lib Dem that were both de-selected for this election. The other two were elected as independents. There have been no other changes of allegiance since the election and all by-elections were holds.

The safe Labour wards:

• Clifton (2)
• Heworth (3)
• Holgate (3)
• Hull Road (3)

It seems almost strange that there are only four wards in the city that can be considered safe for Labour these days. It isn’t strange to find that they’re all in heavy working-class areas with high amounts of council housing (Clifton, Heworth) and students (Hull Road). The history of these areas is all fairly similar, once parts of small villages that got eaten up by the city in the early 20th century and flooded with houses for workers. Bar parts of Hull Road, all these wards were part of the City before the expansion in the 90s, and have always elected Labour, EXCEPT for the one possible change here, Holgate which was Lib Dem in 2003. This, however, is an unlikely gain and is probably not going to happen.

Both incumbents in Clifton are re-standing, in Holgate and Hull Road only 1/3 is re-standing and in Heworth it’s a whole new slate, although it should be mentioned that Cllr Boyce is standing in Fishergate this time. Heworth sees both a candidate for the Women’s Equality Party and Socialist Alternative standing, although they, and the fact that there’s a new slate of candidates, shouldn’t stop Labour from holding these wards.

With these seats in the bag for Labour, they have an 11-seat head start to this election.

Current Tally: (24 needed for majority)
Lab: 11

The safe Conservative wards:

• Bishopthorpe (1)
• Copmanthorpe (1)
• Rural West York (2)
• Wheldrake (1)

Conservatives on the council are a relatively new phenomenon. Up until 2007 there were none, then they slowly started to take over former Lib Dem wards. These days it’s the wards to the south, east and west of the city, former parts of Selby District and Borough of Harrogate that the Conservative presence is strongest, there are a few more wards that are Conservative held, but there’s a chance that the Lib Dems might be able to take back at least one of the seats from those, we’ll get onto that later…

There is some uncertainty about these wards, the councillors for both Copmanthorpe and Wheldrake (including the former leader of the council) left the party this year to stand as “York Independents”, and they have chosen to stand again as independents. This will likely split the vote, allowing other parties (most likely the Lib Dems) to potentially pounce. Unlikely though. As for Bishopthorpe, at the last election the original Lib Dem candidate chose at the last moment to stand as an independent, scoring a strong second. This is also a venue for a potential upset as the sitting Conservative councillor, John Galvin, has been deselected and is also standing as an independent, he has been councillor for Bishopthorpe since 2007 and only increases the chance of a Conservative loss. Rural West was the current council leader’s seat but he’s stepping down, should still be a Conservative hold but it again may be close.

To summarise, new candidates for the Conservatives except the second seat in Rural West, and in the three southern ones, the incumbents are standing as independents.

Despite all that, the seats are still likely Conservative holds, and therefore they too have an, albeit smaller, head start.

Current Tally: (24 needed for majority)
Lab: 11
Con: 5

The safe Liberal Democrat wards:

• Dringhouses and Woodthorpe (3)
• Fulford and Heslington (1)
• Heworth Without (1)
• Huntington and New Earswick (3)

Although hard to imagine these days, the Lib Dems once dominated locally here. In 2003 the results were LD: 29, Lab: 15, Grn: 2, Ind 1. Since then, various factors both nationally and locally mean this is no longer the case, however there are still some wards where it’s unlikely they’re going to be leaving soon. They are mostly areas that were once villages surrounding the city that have now been incorporated into the city but unlike the Labour held areas, have not been filled up with council housing (mostly). These seats are not going anywhere unless Labour can surprise everyone, their best chance would be Dringhouses as they held 2/3 seats in 2011, though it seems they may be targeting Huntington and New Earswick using the new community stadium as the main issue.

All the incumbent Lib Dem councillors are standing again except for Ann Reid in Dringhouses and Woodthorpe who is standing down after first being elected in 1986. Also, a UKIP candidate in D&W and H&NE, although they’re unlikely to have any impact.

With these seats in the bag for the Lib Dems, they also now have a head start.

Current Tally: (24 needed for majority)
Lab: 11
LD: 8
Con: 5

Fishergate – the safe Green ward:

Thought we were done with safe seats? Nope, back in 2003 there were two surprising gains in Fishergate for the Greens off Labour, and they’ve never really gone away. Last time out they had over 50% of the vote between the two candidates and there seems to be no reason why this pro-EU party in a remain city that also has never been near council control will be losing masses of votes.

Both incumbents are standing again, with that and all the above in mind, this isn’t going anywhere.

Current Tally: (24 needed for majority)
Lab: 11
LD: 8
Con: 5
Grn: 2

The Labour-Green battlegrounds:

• Guildhall (3)
• Micklegate (3)

Remember earlier when I said how it’s strange how few Labour safe seats there are these days? That is mostly due to the Green surge from last election. In both wards mentioned above, Labour lost one seat to the Greens in 2015 (they also lost one to an independent in Micklegate). Your author doesn’t live in these areas and now spends most of his time up North these days, so getting a vibe for how things are going campaigning wise is hard, however the Independent in Micklegate isn’t standing again so there is one seat up for grabs. Looking at results from last time shows it’s going to be close and with Labour not suffering from the backlash of their previous council this time, I predict they’ll take both.

In Guildhall all incumbent councillors are standing again, in Micklegate the incumbent Labour councillor is but the Green and independent aren’t.

Prediction:

Guildhall:

Green HOLD.
Labour HOLD.
Labour HOLD.

Micklegate:

Labour GAIN from Independent.
Labour HOLD.
Labour GAIN from Green.

Current Tally: (24 needed for majority)
Lab: 16
LD: 8
Con: 5
Grn: 3

Acomb – the Tory-Labour battleground:

Okay, so there’s just one straight battle between the country’s main two parties and that’s Acomb Ward. The ward only covers the northern half of Acomb, the other half we’ll talk about next. The area is a working-class area, similar to Clifton, which meant it was unexpected when the Conservatives gained in 2015, picking up the second seat. It was a close affair, however, and therefore it is unlikely they’ll hold it, especially with their popularity taking a hit since then.

Both incumbents are standing again.

Prediction:
Labour HOLD.
Labour GAIN from Conservative.

Current Tally: (24 needed for majority)
Lab: 18
LD: 8
Con: 5
Grn: 3

Westfield – the Labour-Lib Dem battleground:

So, one of the reasons why I am sceptical when I hear people say that York will be a Labour gain in 2019 is that there aren’t that many places for them to gain (there is one more place I will leave until the end). Westfield Ward is the southern half of Acomb, a slightly more middle-class area than its northern half and hence is the main Labour-Lib Dem battle ground these days. Even though the Lib Dems have been in coalition recently, the local councillors are quite well liked and have a good majority also.

However, in the last few weeks Cllr Jackson was deselected for the Lib Dems and is now running as an independent, this may hurt their vote slightly but shouldn’t be enough to let Labour in.

Prediction:
Liberal Democrat HOLD.
Liberal Democrat HOLD.
Liberal Democrat HOLD.

Current Tally:
Lab: 18
LD: 11
Con: 5
Grn: 3

Osbaldwick & Derwent:

To the east of the city there is the village of Osbaldwick which these days is completely integrated into the city with a seamless transition from Heworth and the Hull Road area. Osbaldwick used to be grouped with the small village of Murton for its self-named ward. It’s now joined by the large village of Dunnington, the small village of Holtby and the tiny village (but huge parish) of Kexby, which all used to be part of the Derwent ward. The Osbaldwick seat was won comfortably by the independent candidate Mark Warters in 2011 and after the wards were merged in 2015, he narrowly won the second seat. When I say narrowly, he won by five votes off the other Conservative candidate, so naturally the Tories will be campaigning like hell to win that other seat. Of course, the Conservatives will have the disadvantage of currently being in charge, so this is a tough one to call. My prediction is that he’ll hang on, but this is an area on the other side of the city to where I’m based so it really is 50:50.

Cllr Warters is standing again but the Conservative incumbent is not. One of the Lib Dem candidates is the former PPC for York Outer in 2015 and 2017 and one of the Green candidates was the PPC in 2015.

Prediction:
Conservative HOLD.
Independent HOLD.

Current Tally:
Lab: 18
LD: 11
Con: 6
Grn: 3
Ind: 1

The Tory-Lib Dem battlegrounds:

• Haxby and Wigginton (3)
• Strensall (2)

The two ruling parties are going to be having a few battles that have a good chance of determining the council leader for 2019. Both wards are to the north of the city and were both formerly part of the Ryedale district and were historically very Lib Dem. (Mind you, all the city’s periphery was at one point or another.) These days, not so much the case, Haxby and Wigginton was won by the Lib Dems last time out however the Conservatives took the 2nd and 3rd seats. This ward is almost definitely going back to the Liberal Democrats, both incumbent Conservative councillors are not running for the party this time and their replacements are all based in the city centre, not to mention that Cllr Richardson has been suspended by the Conservatives and is standing as an independent.
As for Strensall it’s unlikely to have quite the same effect but one candidate, Tony Fisher, is known well in Strensall village and will be looking for the personal vote. His challenge is to win over the votes of Earswick and Stockton-on-Forest, also in the ward. Only one of the incumbent councillors is standing again so that will also help him.

Prediction:
Haxby and Wigginton:
Liberal Democrat HOLD
Liberal Democrat GAIN from Conservative.
Liberal Democrat GAIN from Conservative.

Strensall:
Conservative HOLD.
Liberal Democrat GAIN from Conservative.

Current Tally:
Lab: 18
LD: 15
Con: 7
Grn: 3
Ind: 1

Rawcliffe and Clifton Without:

The most interesting ward and battle is in the currently completely Conservative held Rawcliffe and Clifton Without. This ward has been won by all three parties in recent elections and might be the deciding factor to both largest party and the council control. If everything else goes as I predict (big if) and Labour win all three seats here, then they will be three short of majority and the Lib Dems and Tories will be two short of a shared majority. A possible Labour-Green coalition? Unlikely. It’s more likely there’ll be a minority Labour administration with Green backing – the Greens probably would want to stay out of the spotlight if possible, though I might be wrong.

Anyway, that’s if it goes Labour’s way, which it doesn’t seem to be going. The variable voting of the ward and its precursors suggest a Conservative hold is unlikely, but the Lib Dems have been targeting this ward since 2015, and I have been told by members of all parties that Lib Dem gains are by far the most likely outcome here.

Two of the incumbent councillors are standing again, and with all that in mind:

Prediction:
Liberal Democrat GAIN from Conservative.
Liberal Democrat GAIN from Conservative.
Liberal Democrat GAIN from Conservative.

The Conclusion and Final Tally:

So, there you have it. This is, obviously, just my view of the how the election might go, other outcomes are definitely possible what with the volatile nature of local politics and some of the stuff going down in Westminster.

If this were the actual result, one does wonder what the resulting administration would be. Would the Conservatives still want to be in coalition with the Lib Dems after they took 6 of their seats? If they didn’t, would a Labour or Lib Dem minority be more likely? Only time will tell, either way, I feel four more years of local political instability for York is coming up.

Whatever the result, York is one of the most interesting councils up in 2019, it is definitely one to watch and will likely see some change. Hope this preview was of some interest to you, it’ll be another four years before I attempt one of these again.

Total number of candidates per party:
LD/Con/Lab/Grn: 47 (Full slate)
Independents: 10 (Acomb (former Lab Cllr); Bishopthorpe (current Con Cllr); Copmanthorpe (former council leader, former Con, current Cllr); Dringhouses & Woodthorpe (former deputy chairman-York Conservatives); Haxby & Wigginton [2] (former Con, current Cllr. Second Ind unknown); Hull Road (former Lab, current Cllr); Osbaldwick & Derwent (Current Cllr, elected Ind); Westfield (former LD, current Cllr); Wheldrake (former Con, current Cllr))
UKIP: 2 (Dringhouses & Woodthorpe; Huntington & New Earswick)
WEP: 1 (Heworth)
Socialist Alternative: 1 (Heworth)