What are council by-elections telling us?

TL;Dr: Recent council by-election results are telling us the polls are pretty much spot on. By-election results to seats that were last up in 2014, 15 and 16 are merely reflecting the changed state of public opinion in that there now exists a country where the two main parties for government are polling in the low-forties.

Last week we had #SuperThursday where 14 wards and divisions of local authorities went to the polls as part of the weekly series of by-elections almost always held every Thursday. The Conservatives, defending nine, came away with three, a net loss of six. Labour, defending four, netted three to finish up with seven, and the Liberal Democrats saw no net change, gaining one and losing one. The Greens come from nowhere, picking up two.

Of the 54 council by-elections held since the general election, 21 have changed hands. Of that 21, nine have been gains made by Labour, five by the Tories, two by the Greens, one by the Liberal Democrats and the remaining four by independents and local parties.

The attention received regarding these by-elections has been unprecedented in recent months, and many a comment has been made about what these results mean for the state of what Britain thinks.

At present, the Labour and Tory gains we are seeing are simply a reflection of the general election result. Ward results, where the contests were last held in 2014, 15 and 16, are merely catching up with the changed state of Britain: a more two party country than what it once was in 2015 where Labour or the Tories were polling in the mid thirties. Now that they are both neck and neck in the forties, and with a general election result to set this shift in electoral stone rather than polling, so too should it be expected that council by-election results reflect that.

Though one ward is not entirely reflective of the entire constituency at large, the recent by-election in a ward in the Weston Super Mare constituency saw Labour increase its share of the vote by 22pts on the 2015 local elections (with the absence of a popular independent candidate who took 23 per cent in 2015) -- not too dissimilar to the general election result across the constituency, where Labour jumped 14pts.

Those attempting to make projections on local by-elections should anticipate much improved performances in the Labour vote on 2014, 15 and 16 where the party was polling in the low-to-mid-thirties.

Unless public opinion changes, expect further Labour gains - in particular in next year's local elections - but note that they are indicative of nothing but the validation of the general election result and the current state of the parties nationally.


For those that don't know, a council by-election is when a ward/division, featuring an electorate of on average a few thousand, has an unexpected contest caused either by the elected individual's death, resignation, disqualification or imprisonment. Our American audience will know by-elections (be they parliamentary or local) as special elections. Council by-elections can sometimes be fought with local issues taking a greater precedent than would be the case in parliamentary elections.


What the polls said in August 2017

Labour's lead down to half a point

Almost three months have passed since the general election result was known and public opinion has marginally shifted in favour of Labour.

They now lead in the polls for the first time since April 2015. At present our poll tracker puts Labour ahead of the Conservatives by only half a point, down from a lead of 4.5pts at the end of June.

With conference season right around the corner, there is potential for one or more of the parties to see their fortunes shift, depending on the coverage and attention they receive when their faithful come together.

Some may comment that support for UKIP and the Greens is up on the election result in our poll tracker. It may be the case that support has increased for them, but the more likely scenario is they are no longer weighted down in response to their sporadic fielding of candidates for the general election.


Bregrexit does not yet exist

If there was to be a second EU referendum tomorrow, it's possible that Remain would - just - edge it, for that is what the latest poll suggests, but not as a consequence of Leave voters changing their minds.

The latest Opinium poll shows that if only those that voted in 2016 voted again [tables here], then Leave would win, but factor in new voters - those that did not or were unable to turn out last year - then Remain would win.

EU referendum voting intentions

Pollster Fieldwork Remain Leave Method NET
Opinium 15 Sep 17 45 45 Online TIE
Opinium 18 Aug 17 47 44 Online Remain +3
Survation 15 Jul 17 47 48 Online Leave +1
YouGov 30 Jun 17 46 42 Online Remain +4
Survation 30 Jun 17 53 44 Phone Remain +9
Panelbase 21 Jun 17 46 50 Online Leave +4
Survation 17 Jun 17 50 48 Phone Remain +2
Survation 10 Jun 17 48 46 Online Remain +2
Panelbase 07 Jun 17 46 51 Online Leave +5
Panelbase 01 Jun 17 47 49 Online Leave +2
Panelbase 23 May 17 48 49 Online Leave +1
Panelbase 15 May 17 47 50 Online Leave +3
Panelbase 09 May 17 47 49 Online Leave +2
Panelbase 24 Apr 17 46 50 Online Leave +4
YouGov 30 Mar 17 44 43 Online Remain +1
YouGov 24 Jan 17 43 44 Online Leave +1
YouGov 21 Dec 16 44 43 Online Remain +1
ComRes 27 Nov 16 46 47 Online Leave +1
YouGov 25 Oct 16 43 44 Online Leave +1
BMG 24 Oct 16 45 43 Online Remain +2
YouGov 20 Sep 16 42 46 Online Leave +4
YouGov 09 Sep 16 43 45 Online Leave +2
YouGov 27 Jul 16 43 44 Online Leave +1
YouGov 04 Jul 16 45 45 Online TIE

Ipsos Mori's drilldown of how Britain voted in the general election found that Remain voters were a lot more robust in continuing to turn out for elections than their Leave counterparts. The research found that 76% of those that voted Remain turned out for the GE, while in contrast only 70% of those that voted Leave did the same. As to why there is a such a discrepancy is yet to be answered, but a few ideas spring to mind: 1) A complacency and contentment regarding a perceived impending victory for Theresa May's pro-Brexit Tories; or/and 2) A failure by both parties (and the absence of UKIP/Nigel Farage) to develop relative messaging to turn those Leave voters out.


YouGov’s hindsight tracker (‘Was the vote for Brexit the right or wrong decision’) shows the share of those opting for either option swapping places almost every time it's asked. Their latest poll, with fieldwork from the 21st to 22nd August, finds 45 per cent of Britons say the vote for Brexit was, in hindsight, the wrong choice. 43 per cent say it was the right choice.

Fieldwork Right Wrong NET
31 Aug 17 44 44 0
22 Aug 17 43 45 -2
01 Aug 17 45 45 0
11 Jul 17 45 43 2
22 Jun 17 44 45 -1
13 Jun 17 44 45 -1
07 Jun 17 45 45 0
31 May 17 44 45 -1
25 May 17 46 43 3
17 May 17 46 43 3
14 May 17 45 41 4
10 May 17 44 45 -1
03 May 17 46 43 3
26 Apr 17 43 45 -2
21 Apr 17 44 44 0
19 Apr 17 46 43 3
13 Apr 17 45 43 2
06 Apr 17 46 42 4
27 Mar 17 44 43 1
21 Mar 17 44 44 0
15 Mar 17 46 41 5
14 Mar 17 44 42 2
28 Feb 17 45 44 1
22 Feb 17 45 45 0
13 Feb 17 46 42 4
31 Jan 17 45 42 3
18 Jan 17 46 42 4
10 Jan 17 46 42 4
04 Jan 17 47 43 4
19 Dec 16 44 44 0
05 Dec 16 44 42 2
29 Nov 16 44 45 -1
15 Nov 16 46 43 3
20 Oct 16 45 44 1
12 Oct 16 45 44 1
14 Sep 16 46 43 3
31 Aug 16 47 44 3
23 Aug 16 45 43 2
17 Aug 16 46 43 3
09 Aug 16 45 44 1
02 Aug 16 46 42 4

Public opinion has softened towards a Brexit exit fee

And finally, a new ICM survey for the Guardian finds public opinion seems to have softened towards a Brexit settlement fee. In April, ICM found 15 per cent of voters would consider a £10bn exit fee acceptable. Now, that figure has risen to 41 per cent.

Although there is some variation in question wording, the direction of travel seems to be clear: public opinion is softening. What with 40 per cent of voters finding the £10bn figure unacceptable, however, there is at present no majority consensus on the direction of exit from the British people.

Except, perhaps, the ever popular policy of having a cake and eating it.


Tories would still be the largest party in parliament if an election were held today

If an election were held today, we project the Conservatives would retain the status of largest party in the House of Commons, though down 19 seats.

Our poll tracker, which covers Great Britain only, has Labour at 42.1 per cent and the Conservatives 41.1 per cent. With a slender lead of 1pt, this would, according to our forecast model, translate into Labour still falling short of overtaking the Tories in the Commons, albeit by 10 seats.

On current polling we do not expect any party to attain a majority in the Commons. The forecast projects the Tories to take 298 seats to Labour's 289. 13 of Labour's gains are expected to come from Scotland and London. High profile gains from the Tories would include Theresa Villiers' Chipping Barnet constituency, Stephen Crabb's Preseli Pembrokeshire,  Chloe Smith's Norwich North, Amber Rudd's Hastings & Rye and Putney, represented by Education Secretary Justine Greening.

We expect the Scottish National Party to come away with 25 seats, down 10 on June, and the Liberal Democrats to net 3, totaling 15.

Constituency Forecast Probability
Arfon Lab gain from PC 50.9%
Perth and North Perthshire Con gain from SNP 54.4%
Milton Keynes North Lab gain from Con 54.4%
Aberconwy Lab gain from Con 56.1%
Telford Lab gain from Con 56.1%
Glasgow North Lab gain from SNP 56.1%
Watford Lab gain from Con 57.9%
St Ives LDem gain from Con 57.9%
Milton Keynes South Lab gain from Con 59.6%
Barrow and Furness Con gain from Lab 61.4%
Finchley and Golders Green Lab gain from Con 61.4%
Glasgow South West Lab gain from SNP 61.4%
Putney Lab gain from Con 63.2%
Hastings and Rye Lab gain from Con 63.2%
Glasgow East Lab gain from SNP 63.2%
Lanark and Hamilton East Lab gain from SNP 64.9%
Calder Valley Lab gain from Con 66.7%
Pudsey Lab gain from Con 66.7%
North East Fife LDem gain from SNP 66.7%
Harrow East Lab gain from Con 68.4%
Dunfermline and West Fife Lab gain from SNP 68.4%
Norwich North Lab gain from Con 70.2%
South Swindon Lab gain from Con 71.9%
Preseli Pembrokeshire Lab gain from Con 71.9%
Hendon Lab gain from Con 73.7%
Motherwell and Wishaw Lab gain from SNP 73.7%
Camborne and Redruth Lab gain from Con 77.2%
Airdrie and Shotts Lab gain from SNP 77.2%
Inverclyde Lab gain from SNP 77.2%
Southampton, Itchen Lab gain from Con 80.7%
Thurrock Lab gain from Con 82.5%
Chipping Barnet Lab gain from Con 84.2%
Richmond Park LDem gain from Con 98.2%

Naturally, because a model is a model, this forecast does not account for the potential incumbency bonuses that will inevitably play a part at the next election.

If public opinion has shifted noticeably, or if new data becomes available, we will issue an update to our forecast.

Note:

The model we use to make this forecast is the same model used for the 2017 General Election, where our final projection (or 'nowcast') overstated the Conservatives by around 40 odd seats and understated Labour by around the same number. It follows the same methodology as outlined on our Nowcast page. Our model was reliant on regional and national polling at the time, which underestimated Labour on average by 4pts. Had the polls been accurate in gauging the Labour share, then so would our forecast, which would have produced a final projection on 08 June of Con 322, Lab 256, SNP 37, LDem 14.


So, how well did our election forecast do?

TL;DR: um, pretty… badly.

The General Election result of 2017 was a surprise. Though the largest party in terms of votes and seats, Theresa May’s Conservatives did not build on their 2015 majority as expected, but lost it. Labour did not crash to a defeat on the scale of Michael Foot’s 1983 showing, but in fact came away with a net gain of 30 seats. Like the majority of the forecasts out there (with the exception of Ben Lauderdale’s YouGov model), ours had the Tories on for a pretty comfortable majority.

So hands up, we got it wrong, and in some individual seats, embarrassingly so. Our final forecast, or ‘nowcast’, for example, had Chester (Lab) with a 90.9% probability of the changing hands. One of the most marginal seats in the country, it instead held firm for Labour. On balance, though, it did correctly forecast Sheffield Hallam (LDem), Brighton Kemptown (Con), Plymouth Sutton (Con) and Croydon Central (Con) going Labour.


Fwiw, our forecast and comparable numbers with the result are GB-wide only:

Party Nowcast Result Seat error Nowcast vote % Result vote % Vote % error
Con 356 317 -39 43.6 43.6 0.0
Lab 219 262 43 36.5 41.1 4.6
SNP 43 35 -8 NA NA NA
LDem 9 12 3 7.9 7.6 -0.3
PC 4 3 -1 NA NA NA
Grn 1 1 0 2.1 1.7 -0.4
UKIP 0 0 0 4.2 1.9 -2.3

Our forecast overall put the Conservatives on course to take 356 seats (or 357 if you include the Speaker), an increase of 26 on 2015. We had Labour on 219, down 13.

Our calculator was reliant on our poll tracker (a polling aggregate of the latest polls) with added adjustments (taking into account regional polling) so as to account for the variation, say, between London and the North East. The poll tracker, simply, underestimated the Labour share, overestimated the Green and UKIP shares, but got the Tory share bang on.

After the result was known, I ran the actual vote shares through the calculator and found the forecast would have come a lot closer to the result which took place then we projected. Using the result vote shares rather than our polling aggregate, our calculator would have produced a hung parliament, with the Tories on 322 seats, Labour 256, the SNP 37 and the Liberal Democrats 14. This, obviously, isn’t perfect, but in the effort of straw grasping I’ll take it as some vindication of our model going in the right direction regarding regional swing, what with getting the SNP number almost bang on.

Essentially, the underestimation of the Labour share (by an avg of 5pts) in the polling aggregate – and the polls generally – was what stuffed it. Had the polls got it right, then so would the forecast.

The reason as to why there was an underestimation of the Labour share is yet to be seen. Ipsos Mori’s breakdown of how Britain voted shows a Labour vote more young and diverse than in 2015 (and a participating electorate on average younger and more diverse than those that turned out in the EU referendum), and it is perhaps a failure to account for that (the entry of new voters, and the exit of old) that saw most forecasts do so poorly.


The 2017 Election Briefing - Scotland


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 Scotland.

Scottish Authorities

There will be 1,223 seats up for election in 353 wards across all 32 Scottish authorities. Though not universal, a notable number of these wards have undergone boundary restructuring, making direct comparisons with 2012 a tad difficult. Elections to Scottish local authorities, unlike those in England and Wales, are conducted using Single Transferable Vote.

The 2012 elections for Scotland were the last set of national Scottish elections where Labour came away nearly tying with the SNP for seats. In 2012 they took 393 seats to the SNP’s 425; the Tories took just 115. With major changes in Scottish public opinion since, and with a snap general election on the horizon, significant changes in the political composition of Scotland’s councils are without question.

To recap, here’s the 2012 results:


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 Scotland.

Scottish Authorities

There will be 1,223 seats up for election in 353 wards across all 32 Scottish authorities. Though not universal, a notable number of these wards have undergone boundary restructuring, making direct comparisons with 2012 a tad difficult. Elections to Scottish local authorities, unlike those in England and Wales, are conducted using Single Transferable Vote.

The 2012 elections for Scotland were the last set of national Scottish elections where Labour came away nearly tying with the SNP for seats. In 2012 they took 393 seats to the SNP’s 425; the Tories took just 115. With major changes in Scottish public opinion since, and with a snap general election on the horizon, significant changes in the political composition of Scotland’s councils are without question.

To recap, here’s the 2012 results:

2012 results mapped

Map: authorities by largest party. Yellow – SNP. Red – Labour. Blue – Conservative. Pink – independent grouping. Grey – two parties tied.


Though not a proportional system, STV in practice yields more proportional results than First Past The Post, and as a consequence only nine of the 33 authorities saw one party attain a majority to govern. Four of these are Labour (Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire), two are SNP (Dundee and Angus) and three are governed by independent groupings (the island authorities of the Eilean Siar, the Orkney Isles and the Shetland Isles).

Of the remaining hung authorities, ten saw Labour as the largest party, five the SNP, two the Conservatives, two for independent groupings and four with two parties tied.

Ipsos Mori has published a voting intention for the Scottish locals, though I would urge caution regarding its accuracy given the low share of support it affords to independents.

Having won a majority in Holyrood the year previous, 2012 was a disappointing year for the SNP, coming ahead of Labour by only 31 council seats (out of 1,223). It should be expected that the SNP will make major gains this year, mostly at Labour’s expense in authorities such as Aberdeen, Falkirk, Fife, North Lanarkshire, Midlothian and Glasgow.

Glasgow saw a Labour majority in 2012. Unless the divine intervention of the late Donald Dewar is the weather forecast for polling day, the SNP will either win a majority on the council or pip the reds for largest party. Though rumours did at one point circulate of Labour giving up on the city, it does seem that they are attempting one final showdown. Regardless, anything other than an SNP leap here will be a shock, but if in the instance they just miss out on an overall majority, it will be interesting to see if the Greens are willing to prop them up with a coalition.

Readers should note Glasgow will this year be featuring Gisela Allen, a UKIP candidate whose views, I expect, will make all the difference between last place and second to last place in Garscadden ward.

Edinburgh gave Labour the status of largest party in 2012, and it’s unlikely that this year they will retain it. The SNP should be the favourites to become the largest party here, and the Tories may just overtake Labour for second. The Greens won six seats here last time, and opportunities for further gains seem likely. Boundary changes which saw the number of seats in the city centre increase should bode well for them.
In terms of votes, it would be interesting to see how well the Liberal Democrats do in the western portion of the city. If there exists a persistent vote for the Lib Dems at a local level, their chances of retaking Edinburgh West at the general election should be good.

We know the Conservatives are going to do well in Scotland compared to 2012, but as to how well is yet to be seen. A good night for them would be to outpoll Labour in seats and votes, overtake them in Dumfries & Galloway, and become the largest party on a number of authorities north of the Forth. Angus, Aberdeenshire and Moray all seem candidates for this. Elsewhere, Perth & Kinross and Stirling are an outside chance. Most have within them constituencies the Conservatives are said to be targeting for the general election. If the Tories want to win more than just the three seats in the Southern Uplands on 08 June, it is vital they do well here. As has been said in the Welsh briefing, the overwhelming presence of independent candidates in some authorities may deny parties the gains they are hoping for and skew the results somewhat. What’s to say a disproportionate number of [X party] voters go independent in local elections?

A good night for Labour would be to retain the status of largest party on at least one authority and be best placed to go into coalition as a secondary partner in as many as possible. After their poor showing in 2016, 2015 and… the latest polls, if Labour wants to retain relevance in Scotland they must do so by showing it somewhere in this year’s council elections. East Lothian could be their saving grace. Though they may lose the status of largest party, they and the Tories could retain enough seats to keep the SNP out and continue a coalition.

2012 results, by council:

To summarise: what should we expect for Scotland?

We should expect the SNP to be the largest party in more authorities than ever before; we should expect Labour to suffer losses to a point where they are at risk of coming third; and we should expect the Tories to stage a comeback in the more rural parts of Scotland as well the borders region.

As a final note, it should be said that Scottish local government elections – as with those being held in Wales and England – will not necessarily reflect how public opinion is when it comes towards Westminster voting intentions. It provides a pointer/a direction of travel/a gauge of strength and nothing more.

Now that these briefings are complete, I will most likely be producing a forecast for the local elections in the final few days before polling day.


Polls will be open on 04 May from 0700hrs to 2200hrs. Results for Scotland will be counted and declared the day after. It is our intention to ensure vote and seat totals of the results are made available to you on our site and social media. If you would like to help with providing election results to our sheets on the night, do get in touch!

Thank you for reading. Help us improve our service. Consider a donation!

Ipsos Mori has published a voting intention for the Scottish locals, though I would urge caution regarding its accuracy given the low share of support it affords to independents.

Having won a majority in Holyrood the year previous, 2012 was a disappointing year for the SNP, coming ahead of Labour by only 31 council seats (out of 1,223). It should be expected that the SNP will make major gains this year, mostly at Labour’s expense in authorities such as Aberdeen, Falkirk, Fife, North Lanarkshire, Midlothian and Glasgow.

Glasgow saw a Labour majority in 2012. Unless the divine intervention of the late Donald Dewar is the weather forecast for polling day, the SNP will either win a majority on the council or pip the reds for largest party. Though rumours did at one point circulate of Labour giving up on the city, it does seem that they are attempting one final showdown. Regardless, anything other than an SNP leap here will be a shock, but if in the instance they just miss out on an overall majority, it will be interesting to see if the Greens are willing to prop them up with a coalition.

Readers should note Glasgow will this year be featuring Gisela Allen, a UKIP candidate whose views, I expect, will make all the difference between last place and second to last place in Garscadden ward.

Edinburgh gave Labour the status of largest party in 2012, and it’s unlikely that this year they will retain it. The SNP should be the favourites to become the largest party here, and the Tories may just overtake Labour for second. The Greens won six seats here last time, and opportunities for further gains seem likely. Boundary changes which saw the number of seats in the city centre increase should bode well for them.
In terms of votes, it would be interesting to see how well the Liberal Democrats do in the western portion of the city. If there exists a persistent vote for the Lib Dems at a local level, their chances of retaking Edinburgh West at the general election should be good.

We know the Conservatives are going to do well in Scotland compared to 2012, but as to how well is yet to be seen. A good night for them would be to outpoll Labour in seats and votes, overtake them in Dumfries & Galloway, and become the largest party on a number of authorities north of the Forth. Angus, Aberdeenshire and Moray all seem candidates for this. Elsewhere, Perth & Kinross and Stirling are an outside chance. Most have within them constituencies the Conservatives are said to be targeting for the general election. If the Tories want to win more than just the three seats in the Southern Uplands on 08 June, it is vital they do well here. As has been said in the Welsh briefing, the overwhelming presence of independent candidates in some authorities may deny parties the gains they are hoping for and skew the results somewhat. What’s to say a disproportionate number of [X party] voters go independent in local elections?

A good night for Labour would be to retain the status of largest party on at least one authority and be best placed to go into coalition as a secondary partner in as many as possible. After their poor showing in 2016, 2015 and… the latest polls, if Labour wants to retain relevance in Scotland they must do so by showing it somewhere in this year’s council elections. East Lothian could be their saving grace. Though they may lose the status of largest party, they and the Tories could retain enough seats to keep the SNP out and continue a coalition.

2012 results, by council:

To summarise: what should we expect for Scotland?

We should expect the SNP to be the largest party in more authorities than ever before; we should expect Labour to suffer losses to a point where they are at risk of coming third; and we should expect the Tories to stage a comeback in the more rural parts of Scotland as well the borders region.

As a final note, it should be said that Scottish local government elections – as with those being held in Wales and England – will not necessarily reflect how public opinion is when it comes towards Westminster voting intentions. It provides a pointer/a direction of travel/a gauge of strength and nothing more.

Now that these briefings are complete, I will most likely be producing a forecast for the local elections in the final few days before polling day.


Polls will be open on 04 May from 0700hrs to 2200hrs. Results for Scotland will be counted and declared the day after. It is our intention to ensure vote and seat totals of the results are made available to you on our site and social media. If you would like to help with providing election results to our sheets on the night, do get in touch!

Thank you for reading. Help us improve our service. Consider a donation!


The 2017 Election Briefing - Wales


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.

Welsh Authorities

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.

PartySeatsAuthorities
Lab58110
Inds298-
PC170-
Con104-
LDem73-
UKIP2-
Oth26-

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.

Map: Authorities up for election

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.

Table: Council compositions as of the 2012 and 2013 local elections

 ConLabLDemPCUKIPIndOth
Blaenau Gwent03300090
Bridgend139310100
Caerphilly050020030
Cardiff746162031
Carmarthenshire0230280221
Ceredigion017190150
Conwy13105120190
Denbighshire819170120
Flintshire831710230
Gwynedd0423701913
Merthyr Tydfil02300172
Monmouthshire1911300100
Neath Port Talbot05208031
Newport103710020
Pembrokeshire39150420
Powys106900480
Rhondda Cynon Taf16019040
Swansea449120034
Torfaen43002080
Vale of Glamorgan112206134
Wrexham523410190
Isle of Anglesey031120140

Map: Authorities up for election

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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#IndyRef 2.0


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.

On a second referendum before Brexit:

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.

Preference for timing of second independence referendum:

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.

Preference for the position of Scotland:

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?’

Preference for the position of Scotland:

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.

Scottish independence voting intentions:

*The YouGov survey does not include 16-17 year olds.

Interesting times.


The 2017 Election Briefing - England


This new 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 England.

English Authorities

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.

2013 results

PartySeatsAuthoritiesVotesShare
Con1,111181,956,40234.7
Lab52931,191,73421.1
LDem347-781,72813.9
UKIP147-1,133,83320.1
Grn20-194,6283.5
Inds / Oth2051382,5856.8

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.

Map: Authorities up for election

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.


English Mayoralties

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.


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!

Help us improve our service. Consider a donation!


2016's Council By-Elections, a roundup

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.

Chart: Total council by-election wins by party in 2016

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.

PartySeats to defendSeats heldSeats lostSeats gainedNET
Conservative139895017-33
Labour107852215-7
Liberal Democrat2320332+29
UKIP13496-3
Green1-12+1
SNP7344-
Plaid Cymru33-3+3

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.