This 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 Wales.
There will be 1,254 seats up for grabs on all 22 authorities of Wales. This is unlike 2012 when the Isle of Anglesey (Ynys Mon) was not up for election.
When analysing the coming results for Wales and what it might mean in a general election, it needs to be noted that in local elections independents play a major role. 24 per cent of the Welsh seats up for election this year for instance are held by independent candidates, higher than the share for the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru put together.
It also needs noting that a woeful number of these council seats in 2012 went uncontested, with a repeat in the more rural parts of the country likely this year. 98 seats in 2012 saw the candidate elected unopposed.
Labour will be defending the lion’s share of seats this year, at 46 per cent (581 seats). Plaid Cymru will be defending the second largest number (party-wise), at 14 per cent (170). The Conservatives 8 per cent (104), and the Liberal Democrats 6 per cent (73). UKIP’s performance in 2012, a time before their ‘surge’ to the teens in the opinion polls, was negligible. They won just two seats and as far as I’m aware have already lost both of them in a defection and council by-election.
Of the 22 councils, just 10 are majority run – all of which by Labour in the nation’s south. Were you to judge authorities based on largest party, however, Labour are the largest in 13 of the 22, Plaid Cymru 5 of the 22, independent groupings in 3 of the 22, and the Tories only one: Monmouthshire. Until 2012, though, the Tories had majorities in Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan. Plaid Cymru also previously had a majority in Gwynedd.
Red indicates a Labour majority; grey an authority with no overall control.
It may be the case, though, that hung authorities will be run either by groupings of independents, a party in the minority, or a coalition between parties.
After netting over 200 seats in 2012 and gaining overall control of eight additional authorities, Labour seems to have hit its ceiling in Wales, with the only way being down.
Cardiff will be one to watch. The Tories, the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru are all in contention to make gains in the city this year. While doubtful Labour are on course to lose the 33 seats they netted here in 2012, seat losses, regardless, are likely. Council by-elections in the city do show opposition parties are on a pretty successful war footing.
If the Conservatives fancy a good night, they should expect to retake overall control of Monmouthshire and build on their numbers in Denbighshire, Conwy and Wrexham. The Vale of Glamorgan was Tory until 2012, but their collapse from 25 seats to just 11 in that election may seem a step too far for the blues to retake this time round.
I expect Plaid Cymru are targeting Gwynedd in the hope of re-taking the authority, but the strength of the local opposition in the area, Llais Gwynedd, may just deny them that desire. Local council by-elections in Gwynedd do suggest the local party is active (as in they’re… standing for election) though in decline, but we should wait to see whether they still have the organisation to put up a decent number of candidates before coming to conclusions here.
Following Leanne Wood’s constituency win in last year’s assembly elections, we should expect Rhondda Cynon Taf to produce some gains for Plaid, but it can’t be said for sure how much of Mrs Wood’s win was personal or partisan.
Ceredigion seems likely to go Plaid made with gains from independents, but a Lib Dem resurgence may offset a couple of these.
Gains for UKIP seem limited, but my knowledge of where their organisation is strong, relatively speaking, suggests we could see some surprises in Caerphilly and Torfaen. Then again, their national decline in the polls does raise the question as to whether they will win any seats in Wales at all.
The prominence of independents in Welsh local politics, as written earlier, is not to be dismissed, and their representation in some authorities such as Merthyr Tydfil and Flintshire, which in general elections would be some of UKIP’s stronger areas, may actually deny the purples the opportunity for gains. The presence of independents as the domineering blocs on Powys and Pembrokeshire councils will likely prevail this year.
Red indicates an authority with Labour the largest party; green Plaid Cymru; blue the Tories and pink an independent grouping.
Hung authorities can produce interesting coalitions. Norfolk in 2013 for instance saw the council run by a rainbow coalition of Labour, the Greens, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP!
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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by Ben Walker
It’s more likely than not that the Scottish people will go to the polls in a second referendum on independence. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has indicated a preference for it to be held between the Autumn of 2018 and Spring of 2019, but Theresa May responded that ‘now is not the time’. This response may provoke a jump in support for Yes in the polls, as is anticipated by Downing Street, but whether that alone will be sustainable to put support for independence ahead is yet to be seen.
So, what’s the state of Scottish opinion right now?
Firstly, many a comment has been made online about whether there is indeed public backing for a second referendum from the Scottish people. A BMG poll (23 – 27 Feb) asked voters whether they support or oppose a referendum ‘prior to the Brexit negotiations being concluded’. It found 39% in support, 49% opposed. A Survation poll (08 – 13 Mar) asked voters whether they ‘support or oppose Scotland having another independence referendum before the UK leaves the European Union’. A plurality of Scots were found to be in opposition.
A Panelbase poll (08 – 13 Feb), which tried to gain detailed preferences shows a split public. 32 per cent indicated a preference for one to be held before Brexit, 19 per cent for one after, 25 per cent not for another 20 years, and 24 per cent never.
Panelbase also asked voters for their preference on the position Scotland should be in, irrespective of the EU referendum result. A majority were found to be in support of membership of the United Kingdom, though split on EU membership. 26 per cent supported UK and EU membership and 27 per cent just UK membership. 41 per cent were found to be in favour of independence, split between 10 per cent holding a preference for out of the EU and 31 per cent in.
The poll then went on to ask: ‘Since the Brexit vote, it’s no longer possible for Scotland to remain in both the UK and the EU. Which of the three other options is your preference?’
Here, when prompting Brexit, a plurality of voters were found to be in favour of independence, at 48 per cent – an increase of seven points on the earlier question. A preference for the United Kingdom fell from 53 per cent to 43 per cent.
When asking the same respondents the standard IndyRef question, however (‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’), Panelbase found support (Yes) at 44 per cent, No 51 per cent with 5 per cent undecided. A more recent Panelbase poll (13 – 17 Mar) found Yes 42 per cent, No 53 per cent.
The motivation to vote Yes for the sake of EU membership does seem at present to be minimal. This may change as time goes on with the prospect of Brexit ever the more real in the minds of the voter, but we cannot be certain.
Ipsos Mori (24 Feb – 06 Mar) found 48 per cent saying Scotland should be a full EU member, 27 per cent to have just full access to the single market and 17 per cent neither of the two. A report by ScotCen (surveyed July – December 2016) shows that, despite 46 per cent of Scots preferring independence to devolution or no parliament – a new high in their series – euroscepticism is, also, on the rise.
Finally, when just plainly asking Scots how they intend to vote in a referendum on independence, four of the last five polls, when including undecided voters, found a lead for No.
*The YouGov survey does not include 16-17 year olds.
This new series of briefings will cover the elections to be held across England, Scotland and Wales on 04 May, 2017.
This part, of three, covers England.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When it comes to council by-elections, 2016 has been unquestionably a good year for the Liberal Democrats.
There have been 317 principal authority by-elections and deferred council contests held over the course of this year. Cornwall stands out as the authority with the most number of by-elections held, at seven.
Council by-elections happen for a number of reasons. From the passing away or resignation of the incumbent to disqualification and arrest, some come with more interesting stories to tell than others.
The Lib Dems made a net gain of 29 seats for 2016, taking home 52. The Conservatives won 106, down 33. Labour, too, suffered a net loss, winning 100 but being down seven. UKIP have a net loss of three, Plaid Cymru a net gain of three and the Scottish Nationalists break even, losing four and gaining four. A smattering of independents, minor parties and local groupings net ten.
The Lib Dem success came mainly at the expense of the Conservatives. Of the 32 gains made, 22 came from the Tories, five from Labour. When charting the gains by date, 24 of the 32 were made following the referendum on EU membership.
Council by-election results in their bulk should not be taken with a pinch of salt or as an overruling reflection of national public opinion. It is safe to say however that a trend has developed with regards to a ‘Lib Dem fightback’ but we should be cautious about jumping to conclusions. Whether the Liberal Democrat success is down to a shift in public opinion or because the party is commendable at focusing resources on by-election campaigns is yet to be seen. Our polling model does show a slight uptick in national support for the party and of the last 10 polls, two have them in double figures.
There will be a better opportunity at drawing conclusions come May of next year where there will be council elections in England (much of the shire authorities), Scotland (all ups) and Wales (all ups).
You can find every headline result of council by-elections held during 2016 in our summary sheet here. Please direct any spotted errors or omissions to our contact page.
Edited 28/12: Article edited to account for numerical error. Conservative council by-election holds originally listed to be 87 when in fact 89.