“All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order”

So there was a local election last Thursday. In advance of this I wrote a preview piece for Britain Elects which turned out to be a bit of a longread but did seem to go down well. Let’s see how what I wrote eventually stacked up in the cold light of the day after what has to rank as one of the most bizarre sets of local elections in recent years…

North East

The North East was the scene of the biggest post being elected this year: the Mayor of the North of Tyne. This column had suspected an upset might be on the cards for this position given some appalling Labour performances in the North East in recent years and the fact that Labour’s candidate Jamie Driscoll is as Corbynista as they come. Driscoll did carry the first preferences, but the performance was nothing to write home about: he had 34%, to 25% for the Tories’ Charlie Hoult, 17% for independent candidate John McCabe and 13% for the Lib Dems’ John Appleby. Transfers from McCabe, the Lib Dems and UKIP split evenly between Labour and the Conservatives, giving Driscoll a fairly easy win by 56-44 in the runoff. We wait to see whether he turns the region into Venezuela-on-Tyne as promised by his opponents. (If he can bring Venezuela’s weather to Whitley Bay that should ensure re-election.)

Elsewhere in the North East the appalling Labour performances of recent years continued. I started with Hartlepool, where the major forces that did well this year – independents and minor parties – are at their strongest and where the Labour administration had descended into infighting. That infighting produced five Labour losses, including the first ever council seats for the Veterans and Peoples Party in Foggy Furze and for the For Britain Movement in De Bruce ward. The Veterans and Peoples Party – which believes that ex-servicemen and -women are the perfect people to run the country – may have lifted its mission statement word for word from the Liberal Democrat constitution but its policies lie somewhere on the dividing line between populist and far-right; there can be little doubt that the For Britain Movement, the party of Anne-Marie Waters, is on the far side of that line. Both of them have been given the navy blue far-right shade on the map above. The pink shade in the map is for the Independent Union; they, the independent councillors, the other microparties mentioned above and Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party now hold sixteen seats on Hartlepool council, to thirteen Labour, three Tories and one UKIP.

Hartlepool was one of four councils lost by Labour in the Tees Valley mayoral area, all five of whose districts are now hung. Independents are now the largest group on Redcar and Cleveland council, the Conservatives have taken over largest-party status in Darlington, and Labour now find themselves short of a majority in Stockton-on-Tees. Middlesbrough has an independent mayor again after a four-year Labour interlude; Andy Preston, who had lost the 2015 mayoral election by a very narrow margin, got his revenge by beating the new Labour candidate 59-23 in the first round of voting.

I wrote that Sunderland would see wild swings. Just how wild can be gauged from the map:

Bit of a mess, isn’t it? That’s twelve losses for Labour, including Washington South which elected the first Green member of Sunderland council. Similar to a case in Trafford last year, the outgoing Labour councillor for Washington South had been sent down for child sex offences shortly before the election, leaving an open seat which the Greens picked up. That was just one of many cases in this election where the Green Party won their first seat in a district. Despite everything, Labour still have a secure majority: they hold 51 out of 75 seats on Sunderland council.

The two by-elections to Durham council also turned in interesting results. Shildon and Dene Valley was gained by the Liberal Democrats from Labour; while Spennymoor broke a possibly unwanted record. Ian Geldard, one of four independent candidates contesting the division, polled 489 votes out of 2,661 counted; that’s only 18.7%, but it was enough to win on a perfect eight-way vote split. In seventeen years of looking at elections, this is the lowest winning score your columnist has ever seen and only the second election I can remember with a first-place score under 20%. The fact that somebody can be and is elected as a sole representative while being rejected by over 81% of the voters shows England’s first-past-the-post system up for the lottery that it can be, and should give even the most ardent defenders of the status quo some pause for thought.

North West

Labour also went backwards in northern Cumbria. The Conservatives are now the largest party on Carlisle city council, and Labour haemorrhaged seats in Workington to independent candidates to fall into third place on Allerdale council. Independent Mayor of Copeland Mike Starkie was re-elected for a second term in the first round, beating Labour 57-26. The Conservatives lost their overall majority in the deeply rural and far-flung Eden district, although they are still the largest party.

In Lancaster district the Morecambe Bay Independents rose again after nearly being wiped out at the 2015 election; that cost the Labour party their majority, while the Conservatives – who had suffered from infighting here – also performed poorly. That wasn’t the only Lancashire district lost by Labour, who shed four seats and lost control of Burrnley council. Next-door Pendle, which previously had a Conservative majority, has also become hung; and the Tories have also lost control of South Ribble district where Labour are now the largest party. I must apologise for the Pendle preview, which had some errors in the text.

The main story in Merseyside was the Labour loss of Wirral council, where the party lost two seats to the Greens, Oxton to the Lib Dems and Pensby and Thingwall to the Conservatives. How’s that left-wing takeover going again? In Cheshire proper the Labour majority in Cheshire West and Chester appears to have been scuppered by boundary changes, but the party still holds 35 out of 70 seats and their administration should continue. The Conservatives surprisingly lost control of Cheshire East, with Labour making big gains in the towns of Macclesfield and Sandbach, but the blue team remain as the largest party there.

Crossing the boundary into Greater Manchester, Stockport council is on a knife-edge: the Liberal Democrats gained five wards from the Conservatives but lost Manor to Labour, leaving the Labour and Lib Dem groups tied on 26 seats each. The Conservatives and the Heald Green Ratepayers now hold the balance of power.

In Trafford the same trends which saw the Conservatives lose their majority in 2018 were, if anything, intensified as Labour convincingly gained overall control of the borough. The Tories lost nine of the thirteen seats they won in 2015, holding only St Mary’s ward in Sale and the Real Housewives of Cheshire territory of Hale and Bowdon; Labour gained Ashton upon Mersey ward in Sale for the first time ever. No wonder Jeremy Corbyn turned up in Sale on Friday morning. The new council has 36 Labour councillors and an opposition of 27.

Another place where the same trends as 2018 were evident, only more so, was the Greatest Town in the Known Universe. A repeat of the 2018 results would have seen Labour lose five seats nett in Bolton; in fact they lost seven and gained nothing. The Tories picked up Breightmet and Hulton, Westhoughton South went Lib Dem, and localist parties Farnworth and Kearsley First, and the Horwich and Blackrod Independents, cleaned up in their respective areas. It wasn’t all good news for the Bolton Tories though, as they lost Westhoughton North and Chew Moor to the Liberal Democrats; additionally the Labour councillor who had gone independent has now rejoined the Labour Party in a move which might make all the difference to the administration on this truly hung council. Labour remain the largest party on 24 seats, the Conservatives have 20, and the remaining 16 are split between the Lib Dems (6), Farnworth and Kearsley First (5), UKIP (3) and the Horwich and Blackrod Independents (2). We may not know who will be running the Bolton administration for the next year until the next full council meeting.

Yorkshire and the Humber

Over on the wrong side of the Pennines Labour got the gains they needed in Calderdale to complete a clean sweep of the Yorkshire metropolitan boroughs. The Conservatives lost six seats in Calderdale, four of which (Luddendenfoot, Sowerby Bridge, Skircoat and Elland) went to Labour; that puts Labour on 29 seats, against 23 for the opposition.

In North Yorkshire we start to see the big Conservative losses which characterised this election. The party lost a number of seats to independents, which cost them control of the tiny Craven and Richmondshire districts in the Yorkshire Dales; the Tories also fell back in Ryedale and Scarborough districts on the North York Moors. Hambleton council saw a tied result in Northallerton South ward, with Labour and the Conservatives finishing on 527 votes each; the returning officer drew lots to settle the tie and Labour’s Gerald Ramsden was declared elected. He’s the first Labour councillor in Hambleton for some years. The Liberal Democrats overtook Labour to become the largest party on York city council.

Fans of regional devolution will be pleased to note that the Yorkshire Party has won its first elected council seats, two on East Riding council and one in Selby district. We also say hello to the Democrats and Veterans Party. Not to be confused with the Veterans and Peoples Party described under Hartlepool above, the Democrats and Veterans Party is a UKIP splinter led by the man who claimed that a gay donkey raped his horse; their two wins came in a truly fragmented Barnsley council election in which independents and minor parties claimed 36% of the vote, to just 33% for Labour. On the Remain side of the Remain/Leave divide, Steve Wilson – husband of the Change UK MP Angela Smith – did very badly in his attempt to be re-elected to Sheffield city council as an independent; Wilson polled just 102 votes and finished eighth out of nine candidates in his East Ecclesfield ward.

The bright spot for the Conservatives in the region was North East Lincolnshire, where they gained five seats (Croft Baker, Freshney, Immingham and Yarborough from Labour, and Park from the Lib Dems) and control of the council. And what was the very first thing the Tories did with their new-found power? Cancel the roundabout replacement plan in Grimsby which I mentioned in the preview. Don’t let anybody tell you that local elections never changed anything.

East Midlands

In Lincolnshire proper, the Conservatives have confirmed their control of Boston council. However, they surprisingly lost their majority in the North Kesteven district, which is based on the Sleaford and North Hykeham parliamentary seat – the seat which returned the highest Tory share of the vote in the 2017 general election. North Kesteven now has 22 independent councillors against 20 Conservatives and one vacancy: the first by-election to the Class of 2019 will be here after the two-seat ward of Billinghay, Martin and North Kyme attracted only one candidate. To the north of Lincoln, a Lib Dem revival in West Lindsey district almost knocked out the Tory majority there.

The story of the night in Leicestershire belongs to the Lib Dems, who gained nine seats and overall control of Hinckley and Bosworth district which I had identified as a long-shot. In the big race Sir Peter Soulsby was re-elected as Mayor of Leicester, crushing the Conservatives’ Baroness Verma 61-17 in the first round.

Moving into Nottinghamshire, Anna Soubry’s Broxtowe district has fallen into no overall control; the Conservatives have lost five seats and currently stand on 20, to 14 for Labour, five Lib Dems, two independents and two vacancies. The Broxtowe 2019 election is not yet finished, as one of the outgoing Tory councillors for Stapleford South East ward died during the campaign and the poll there has had to be postponed; if the Conservatives can hold both seats in that ward they will finish up with half of the council.

One of the Broxtowe seats in Brinsley ward was won by the Ashfield Independents – the Zadroznyites. I warned you this was coming, didn’t I? Jason Zadrozny and his supporters now control 30 out of 35 seats on Ashfield council, most of which were won with ridiculously high shares of the vote; over 80% was typical. If Zadrozny fancies another shot at the Ashfield parliamentary seat in due course (he was rhe Lib Dem candidate for Ashfield in 2010 and very nearly won), on this evidence Labour’s Gloria de Piero doesn’t stand a chance.

Things were brighter for Labour in Mansfield, where the mayoral and council elections finished with opposite results as they often do. The Mansfield Independent Forum now have a majority on Mansfield council; but the Mansfield mayoral election was a different matter. Labour’s Andy Abrahams led in the first round with 29% of the vote, to 25% for incumbent Independent Forum mayor Kate Allsop, 20% for independent Steve Garner and 15% for the Tories’ George Jabbour; in the runoff Allsop picked up most of the transfers, but not quite enough of them as Abrahams won the mayoralty by 7,930 votes to 7,928, a majority of two votes. As the first Labour mayor of Mansfield Abrahams will be supported on the council by the 15 Labour councillors, which will be enough for Labour to govern the borough; the 19 Independent Forum and two Conservative councillors are not enough to constitute the two-thirds majority needed to block the mayoral budget.

Two Derbyshire councils which I hadn’t mentioned in the preview were Bolsover and North East Derbyshire, both of which saw a change in control. Labour lost their majority in Bolsover district, as independents gained eleven seats and the Tories and Lib Dems won representation. Local MP Dennis Skinner will no doubt have something pungent to say about that. With Labour on eighteen seats, independents on sixteen and nineteen needed for a majority, the Tories and Lib Dems now hold the balance of power.

North East Derbyshire was the only council which the Conservatives gained directly from Labour this year. This district is undergoing rapid demographic change, as coalmining towns like Dronfield, Killamarsh and Clay Cross are replaced with Sheffield and Chesterfield commuter areas like Dronfield, Killamarsh and Clay Cross. The Tories had gained the North East Derbyshire parliamentary seat in 2017, and followed up on that in these local elections to win 30 seats out of a possible 53.

The High Peak district of Derbyshire also swung to the party that gained the parliamentary seat two years ago, except this time Labour were the beneficiaries. This area is very different from the rest of Derbyshire and arguably shouldn’t be in the East Midlands region at all, as the main centres of population are Glossop and New Mills which are in the economic and cultural orbit of Manchester. The Conservatives will be defending all but one of the High Peak seats in the 2021 Derbyshire county council elections, and must now be rather worried at their prospects for that poll.

Another bright spot for Derbyshire Labour was the Amber Valley district which now has a convincing Labour majority. The party gained all four seats in Belper plus the Heage and Ambergate ward, and were within 50 votes of gaining both Ripley wards. The Tories also lost the rock-solid Duffield ward to the Green Party, who won their first ever seat to break the duopoly on Amber Valley council. There was better news for the Conservatives in Derby: the city council remains hung, but another bloodbath for Labour – who lost six seats to add to their rout in 2018 – means that the Conservatives are now the largest party and their administration is a bit more secure than it was previously.

West Midlands

I had nominated the two-party state of Dudley as the stand-out council to watch in the West Midlands thanks its knife-edge political situation. These elections haven’t resolved that deadlock. The Tories recovered the Norton ward where their sitting councillor had gone independent, but all other changes cancelled each other out leaving the Conservatives and Labour tied on 36 seats each. The current Mayor of Dudley is a Conservative, so it seems likely that the Tories will take control of the borough for the next year on the mayoral casting vote.

That aside there were generally good Tory performances in Staffordshire past and present, the standout one being Walsall where the Conservatives gained two seats and a majority on the council. The two gains from Labour were in Birchills-Leamore and Bloxwich East wards, both of which are very working-class areas; the Walsall North constituency is by a very long way the most deprived seat to vote Tory in the 2017 general election. It seems rather bizarre that Walsall has become only the second metropolitan borough with a Conservative majority (the other is Solihull).

The Labour performance in Cannock Chase was nothing to write home about either, as they lost control of the council. There were some mistakes in my preview of this district as I had overlooked the effect of two by-elections in Hednesford in 2017; overall Labour lost Brereton and Ravenhill to the Lib Dems, Hagley to the Conservatives and Hednesford North to the Green Party. The Conservatives also recovered a by-election loss from Labour in Hednesford Green Heath; but they came out with a net loss of seats as well because Norton Canes went to Labour and Hednesford South and Rawnsley were Green gains (the former confirming a by-election gain). Labour remain the largest party with 18 seats, three short of a majority; the Tories have 15 and the five Green Party councillors now hold the balance of power.

The Conservatives also performed well in Stoke-on-Trent, where they are now the second largest party; their coalition with the City Independents may well continue. However, the Tories lost control of the neighbouring and deeply rural district of Staffordshire Moorlands, where independents and Labour made big gains.

That wasn’t the only district in the West Midlands the Tories lost. The controversial Tory administration in Herefordshire crashed and burned, and independent councillors of various stripes now hold half of the seats. The Conservatives also lost council majorities in Malvern Hills, Wyre Forest (where the Kidderminster Health Concern group had a resurgence), the city of Worcester and the Warwick district. Worcester had an all-party administration so the loss of a Tory majority is unlikely to make any practical difference there. One relatively bright spot for the Conservatives was South Staffordshire, where the sacking of the local MP Gavin Williamson from the Cabinet on the day before the poll doesn’t seem to have had much of an effect on the Conservative majority.

East of England

Thus far the main focus of this piece has been on Labour not performing very well in its strong or formerly strong areas. That will now change as we cross the Severn-Wash line and come to East Anglia and the South, the Tory heartlands. These are the regions where the 1,300 Conservative losses on Thursday were concentrated. If you are Tory-inclined and of a nervous disposition, you might not want to read any further.

Having issued that trigger warning, we enter East Anglia via the city of Peterborough where the Conservatives have lost their majority: they made four nett losses in these elections, two to Labour, one to the Greens and one to the Lib Dems. The Lib Dem gain was in Hampton Vale, one of two wards which were drawn up in 2016 with very low electorates because lots of now houses are slated for this area, so keep an eye on Hampton Vale and the neighbouring Hargate and Hempsted ward for political volatility as the houses get built and the population increases. Areas like this south of the Nene are not part of the Peterborough parliamentary seat, to which this column will be returning with a Parliamentary Special at the start of June after the recall petition against Fiona Onasanya succeeded.

Before being an MP Onasanya was a Cambridgeshire county councillor representing a division in the city of Cambridge. Another Cambridgeshire county councillor representing a division in the city of Cambridge who tried to hang onto their seat long after they should have resigned was Donald Adey of the Liberal Democrats, who continued to represent the Trumpington area on Cambridgeshire county council and Cambridge city council for some months after he’d moved to Scotland last year. Unlike Onasanya, Adey did eventually resign and the resulting county council by-election – which I had accidentally omitted from the preview piece – was an easy hold for the Liberal Democrats. Not much changed in Cambridge city this year, but East Cambridgeshire district was a different matter: the Lib Dems gave this council a good go, but in the event fell short with 13 seats against 15 for the Conservatives.

One East Anglian council which did however fall to the Lib Dems was North Norfolk, as the voters delivered their verdict on the Tory antics in the 2015-19 term. The new North Norfolk council has 30 Lib Dems opposed by just six Conservatives and four independents. Great Yarmouth council has now moved off the thirds electoral cycle and its next elections will be in 2023.

Suffolk turned out to be more interesting than expected. The new councils of East and West Suffolk returned large Conservative majorities as expected, but the Tories lost overall control of Mid Suffolk and the Babergh district (which lies immediately south-west of Ipswich and whose largest town is Sudbury. Mid Suffolk is finely balanced, with 16 Conservatives, 12 Greens, and the balance of power held by five Lib Dems and an independent; the Conservatives are two seats short of a majority in Babergh and may seek to form a minority administration.

This column had speculated that the Tories may have been on course for a majority in Tendring: but it didn’t work out like that. The Tories remain the largest group on the council but fall to 16 seats, against nine independents, six Labour councillors, five UKIPpers, four Tendring First councillors, three members of a localist party in Holland-on-Sea, two Lib Dems and one councillor elected for the Foundation Party (of which I know nothing). We may have to wait for the postponed poll in St Osyth ward, which will return the final two councillors on 23rd May, to see who will form the administration here. Tendring wasn’t the only bad Conservative performance in rural Essex: the Residents for Uttlesford group convincingly took overall control of the Uttlesford district, which covers the north-west corner of the county and includes Saffron Walden and Stansted Airport. The Conservatives also went backwards in Colchester, losing a seat to the Green Party who may seek to join the rainbow coalition running Colchester council.

The big headlines in Essex were however reserved for Chelmsford, and rightly so. In the 2015 local elections the Conservatives had carried every ward in Chelmsford district, and won 52 seats to 5 for the Liberal Democrats. There had been little indication from the 2017 Essex county or general elections that this was going to significantly change; but significantly change it did. As can be seen from the map the Lib Dems stormed the wards in Chelmsford city proper (the map was drawn before the district got city status…) and they now have 31 seats on the council against 21 Conservatives, three independents and two councillors from a South Woodham Ferrers localist party.

And this is only the start of what we shall see has been a bonfire of the Conservatives in the London commuter belt. The party lost eight seats in Southend-on-Sea and control of the council. They lost three seats in the volatile New Town of Basildon and control of the council. They lost five seats in Brentwood, although there is still a Tory majority there. In Thurrock the ex-UKIP Thurrock Independents held their own to a much greater extent than would have been suggested by March’s by-election result from Aveley and Uplands ward; Thurrock council remains hung with the Conservatives as the largest party.

A similar situation pertains in Hertfordshire where Welwyn Hatfield, North Hertfordshire and St Albans districts all had Conservative majorities going into this election, and all are now hung councils. In the case of St Albans the Liberal Democrats are now the largest party, with 25 seats against 23 Conservatives, six Labour, three independents and a Green. Further out from London the Lib Dems’ Dave Hodgson successfully defended the Bedford mayoralty: he led on the first count with 36% against 32% for the Conservatives and 20% for Labour, and extended his lead over the the Conservatives in the runoff to 54-46.

South East

The only Buckinghamshire district up this year was the New City of Milton Keynes, which remains hung but with Labour now as the largest party. They gained two seats from the Conservatives to finish on 23; the Tories now have 19 and the Lib Dems have 15. Overall the Conservatives lost five seats in MK, but once you take into account the scale of their rout across the south and the fact they were defending ten marginal wards, it could have been a lot worse. This may not be the last we hear of the 2019 Milton Keynes election: there was no Conservative candidate for Central Milton Keynes ward, and according to press reports the Tories were considering legal action with claims that the returning officer had lost their nomination papers.

I had warned of the possibility of a large anti-Tory swing in the Vale of White Horse district, and so it came to pass: the Vale now has a large Lib Dem majority, with 31 seats against just six Conservatives and a Green. The Lib Dems are now also the largest party in the neighbouring South Oxfordshire district, where the Tories had won 33 out of 36 seats in 2015; an electoral pact between the Lib Dems and the Green Party proved very effective here, and those two parties now have a bare majority between them.

None of the Berkshire councils changed control, but the Tories must now be seriously worried about the Wokingham district where they have been underperforming for some time. In 2015 the Conservatives won all eighteen of the seats up for election; this year they lost ten of those seats, with eight nett gains for the Lib Dems who are now clearly the second largest party on the council. The new Wokingham council has 31 Conservatives to 16 Lib Dems, four Labour councillors and three independents. The Prime Minister’s district of Windsor and Maidenhead saw heavy Conservative losses, but the Tories still have a majority on that council with 23 out of 41 seats.

Surrey, on the other hand, was a bloodbath for the Conservative party. Of the 1300 or so seats they lost across England in these local elections, 120 were in Surrey. In Michael Gove’s constituency of Surrey Heath the party collapsed from 36 seats out of 40 to 18 seats out of 35, a majority of one. In the hung Elmbridge district the party lost three seats and a coalition of the Residents and Lib Dems looks likely to take over. In Mole Valley district the Conservatives lost ten of the twelve seats they were defending (one of them by failing to get their nomination papers in) and the Lib Dems now have a majority. There is just one Conservative councillor remaining in Chris Grayling’s constituency of Epsom and Ewell. Tandridge district has fallen into no overall control.

And in two particularly epic failures, which this column didn’t see coming, Waverley council (the south-west corner, around Farnham and Godalming) became hung, and independents are now the largest group on Guildford council where the Tories were reduced to just nine councillors. In those two districts alone, 55 Conservatives lost their seats. 16 million people may be happy to note that that one of the Guildford Tories now seeking new employment is Christian Holliday, the Tory councillor who wanted to make support for remaining in the EU a treason felony. Only Donald Trump can insult that many people and get away with it, and Holliday is no Trump. This column was under the distinct impression that the Conservatives were going to kick Holliday out for that piece of moronic idiocy, but instead he was quietly readmitted to the party once the fuss had blown over in a decision which reflects badly on everyone involved. Waverley district also had a by-election to Surrey county council in the Haslemere division, which the Conservatives lost to an independent candidate.

From a Tory point of view, Kent wasn’t much better. Take a look at this map of Tunbridge Wells district, which again wasn’t on your columnist’s radar, and bear in mind that the Conservatives were defending all seventeen wards up for election:

Bit of a mess, isn’t it? That’s thirteen losses for the Conservatives, with the pink wards going to the localist Tunbridge Wells Alliance. Now there are reasons for the electors of Tunbridge Wells to be even more disgusted than usual at their local council, which is merrily blowing all the goodwill it has with a plan to build a new civic centre and theatre in a historic local park; but this is still an epically bad Tory result. Like several other councils already mentioned in this piece and some others yet to come, Tunbridge Wells is a district where the weakness of the Conservative and Labour parties this year meant that unpopular administrations got their comeuppance. The new Tunbridge Wells council has 28 Conservatives to 9 Lib Dems, 6 seats for the Tunbridge Wells Alliance, 4 Labour councillors and an independent; another year like this and it’ll be No Overall Control time.

We’ve already gone past that point in Gravesham, which now has a Labour majority again. The split in the local Conservative party clearly had a bad effect on the electorate as the Tories lost five seats. The Kent county council by-election in Northfleet and Gravesend West division was safely held by Labour; the same cannot be said of the week’s other Kent county council by-election in Sittingbourne North which the Conservatives lost to the Swale Independents. That was emblematic of the result in Swale council as a whole; this district based on Sittingbourne, Faversham and the Isle of Sheppey had returned large Tory and UKIP caucuses in 2015, but this year the Conservatives lost half their seats and control of the council with UKIP holding just one seat. The Tories retain 16 seats, to 11 Labour, 10 Swale Independents, 5 Lib Dems, 2 Greens, 2 independents and that 1 Kipper.

Another council with a similar trend to that in Swale is Folkestone and Hythe, the district on the south coast of Kent formerly known as Shepway. This one is finely balanced: with 16 seats necessary for a majority, the Conservatives have 13, the Greens and Labour six each, the Lib Dems and UKIP two each and there is one independent councillor.

In Thanet it would appear that we are back to the status quo ante Farage, with UKIP completely wiped out. Labour had been the biggest losers from the 2015 UKIP surge in Thanet, and this time round they were the biggest winners from its unwind; the new council has 25 Conservatives, 20 Labour, 8 independents of various types and three Greens. Another four years of entertainment from the Byzantine mess which is Thanet politics looks distinctly on the cards.

Moving into Sussex, the Conservatives lost control of the Rother district, which covers the rural eastern end of the county and surrounds Hastings on the landward side; the party lost more than half of its seats and is now just one seat ahead of the independents. This was the only East Sussex district to see a change in control. The Lib Dems may have been looking for a gain of Lewes district but in the event they lost seats there; the Greens are now second on Lewes council behind the Conservatives, who are one seat short of an overall majority.

The Greens also did well in Brighton and Hove, bouncing back somewhat as memories of the 2011-15 administration faded. Labour fell back to 20 seats, one ahead of the Greens; the Tories recovered a bit from their awful 2017 general election result to hold 14 seats, and the remaining seat went to an independent.

There was more bad news for the Tories in West Sussex; they lost control of the Arun district (the coastal strip around Bognor and Littlehampton) and the far-flung Chichester district. In Arun the Liberal Democrats are now the largest party, with independents holding the balance of power. The Conservatives failed to improve their situation in Crawley, where Labour retained the council majority and also held the West Sussex county by-election in Northgate and West Green. Worthing will be a serious cause of concern for the West Sussex Conservatives in the 2020 election, as the party lost six of the eleven seats they were defending; five of them went to Labour who have now won ten seats on Worthing council since May 2017. For purposes of comparison, Labour had never won a council seat in Worthing before May 2017.

Moving into Hampshire, Portsmouth council remains hung but the Liberal Democrats are now the largest party, having gained two seats nett at these elections. Winchester district now has a Liberal Democrat majority, with six seats flipping from the Conservatives to give the Lib Dems area a 27-18 lead in this two-party state. In Hart district the Community Campaign/Lib Dem coalition increased its majority, and the Community Campaign has naw drawn level with the Conservatives following five Tory losses. One bright spot for the Hampshire Conservatives was however Havant district, where the party was defending every seat up for election and did so successfully.

South West

Our final region is the South West, and we start in Dorset which was reorganised this year with two new unitary councils. Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council ended up as a hung council, with 36 Conservatives (three seats short of a majority), 15 Lib Dems, 11 independents, 7 members of the localist Poole People party, 3 Labour, 2 Greens and one councillor from the new Alliance for Local Living. Dorset council will have a small Tory majority and a sizeable Lib Dem opposition for its first term, which will last until 2024 as part of a transitional arrangement.

A rare positive result for the Conservatives in the south of England was Swindon where the party increased its majority over Labour to 31-24, with two Lib Dems also on the council. With Swindon forming two marginal parliamentary seats and the well-publicised problems regarding the future of the Honda plant, this may be a straw in the wind suggesting that Labour are not ready to break through here.

Over the border in Gloucestershire the Tory administration in Cotswold district has been defeated, with the Lib Dems winning an overall majority. They have 18 seats to 14 Conservatives, a Green and an independent. The Cotswold Tories have never been short of controversy with the Cotswold Water Park affair having given Private Eye‘s Rotten Boroughs column material for years, and even this election has caused a row which looks set to run and run. One of the 14 Conservative seats was the Tetbury Town ward: this was won with a majority of one after the returning officer reportedly accepted as a valid Conservative vote a ballot paper on which the voter had written the word “Brexit” and an arrow pointing to the Tory candidate’s name. The losing independent candidate is threatening legal action, and this will be a fun one for the Election Court to adjudicate on if it gets that far. Elsewhere in Gloucestershire, the mess in the Forest of Dean district has not resolved itself: the council remains hung but independent candidates are now the largest group, with 14 councillors against 10 Conservatives, 6 Greens and 5 Labour. UKIP were wiped out.

Cotswold notwithstanding, the most impressive performance for the Liberal Democrats in this region came in Bath and North East Somerset; the Lib Dems swept the city of Bath and did well enough in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s North East Somerset constituency to win an overall majority. The young fogey himself now has a Lib Dem councillor in his home Mendip ward. In what was generally a very impressive set of elections for the Green Party, this was one of only two districts where they were wiped out (the other was Cambridge). The Lib Dems are also now the largest party on Mendip council, and independents form the largest group in North Somerset district; both of those had Conservative majorities in 2015. Finally, the Liberal Democrats won an impressive overall majority in the new district of Somerset West and Taunton; they have 30 councillors, against 14 independents, 10 Conservatives, 3 Labour and 2 Greens.

That leaves just one county to consider, Devon. Here was another set of bad Conservative performances, as they lost majorities in Torridge, Mid Devon and East Devon districts and now have a majority of just one in South Hams district. The East Devon district, which at parliamentary level has seen two strong independent challenges from county councillor Claire Wright in the last two elections, now has an independent majority, and independents form the largest group in Torridge district. Two Devon districts now have Lib Dem majorities: North Devon on the north coast and Teignbridge on the south coast.

There is one more item of business to note from Thursday. The only poll which took place in Scotland was a by-election to Dundee city council, held in the North East ward; this resulted in a Scottish National Party gain from Labour, and as a result the SNP now have an overall majority in the city of Dundee. Before yesterday’s by-election, all 29 councils in mainland Scotland had been hung; that’s because Scotland moved twelve years ago to using proportional representation for its local elections, a system which means that councils reflect the votes cast far better than some examples which have been presented in this piece. The Welsh Government is considering giving councils the right to choose their electoral system in the future, and one of these days – perhaps after the government changes next – England is going to follow suit. This piece has mentioned a number of local administrations which over the last four years or more have been complacent, poorly-performing, disrespected, decaying, or worse; and in many of those cases its England’s first-past-the-post electoral system which keeps them there, with council majorities which their vote shares simply don’t warrant. This year we’ve seen some violent voter reactions to some administrations like that; it may have been first-past-the-post that got rid of some of those bad apples, but it was also first-past-the-post that put them there with lopsided, unwarranted majorities in the first place. As in so many things, prevention may be better than cure.

Rather a lot to chew over there, isn’t there? Well, this is the largest year in the local electoral cycle and there will necessarily be a lot to go through. This piece may represent the first draft of my attempts to make sense of what happened on 2nd May but it has only scratched the surface. We’re in volatile political times, and these crazy local election results are a fair reflection of that volatility. There will be much more to say in the future as we start to work through the by-elections which will be generated in due course by the Class of 2019, and Andrew’s Previews and Britain Elects will of course keep you as informed as ever as they happen. Stay tuned.

Andrew Teale