Reviewing the 2019 Local Elections

“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


Impacts through absence? How might the Brexit Party and Change UK influence the local elections from afar tomorrow?

This week’s council elections are the among the most unpredictable and potentially the most exciting in recent memory. Across England and Northern Ireland, almost 9000 seats are up for grabs. With a healthy mixture of Non-Metropolitan Districts (mostly Conservative held/leaning), Metropolitan Boroughs (mostly Labour held/leaning), and Unitary Authorities (spread pretty evenly between the two), we will get a good chance to see how parties are currently performing across a range of different settings. And the hugely volatile currents in the British political air will serve quite the test for established parties looking to defend seats and councils across the country.

Brexit is dominating the headlines, political discussion, and the mind-sets of many voters up and down the country. While neither of the Brexit Party nor Change UK – The Independent Group are standing candidates anywhere on Thursday, their impact will surely be felt as Leave (and what kind of Leave) vs Remain looks set once again to be the dominant voter dynamic.

Voters looking forward to backing Farage’s and Allen’s respective parties later this month in the Euros but for now forced to pick between already-established parties will be focus of this piece.

As I explored for the UK in a Changing Europe in a recent blog, both the Brexit Party and Change UK look set to have significant impacts on the upcoming European election contests – the former particular so.

While not fielding candidates for the local contests on Thursday, the impact of these two hardcore Leave and Remain (respectively) political parties could have sizeable consequences for voting behaviour at the ballot box in three days time.

Namely – what will voters do on May 2nd who are set on backing the Brexit Party and Change UK on May 23rd? The two new entries into the British political system have been driving voters away from the established parties (particularly Labour and the Conservatives), adding to the ever polarising and divisive debate, but where will they go now?

Supporters of Farage’s Brexit Party are, according to the polls for the moment, overwhelmingly backed Leave in 2016 and voted Conservative in the 2017 General Election. Will they return to the Conservatives briefly for the locals? Will they jump ship to Labour in protest at the government’s handling of Brexit? Or could they go elsewhere (if indeed they go out at all)?

Realistically, the circa 25% of the voting public expressing intention to back the Brexit Party are highly unlikely to move toward the more Remain-y end of the current political spectrum, given the ‘hard Brexit’ appeal of Farage.

As for the Conservatives, Theresa May and her party are the root cause of their current frustrations over Brexit, so it also seems fairly unlikely that many voters will return to the Tory roots later this week.

So, one of the slightly surprising beneficiaries of the Brexit Party moment instead could be UKIP. Many 2016 Leave and 2017 Conservative voters are very likely to have backed UKIP prior to those two events. Returning to them, as the original party of Brexit (they could very easily argue), or indeed moving to UKIP for the first time would seem quite logical. UKIP offers a very similar outlook on Brexit to Farage and his party, and in their absence could be well placed to capitalise on Brexit frustrations.

As such, UKIP may do surprisingly well in the coming local election, hold on to many more seats than in the previous two cycles (2017 and 2018), and perhaps also take a number of seats in previous areas of strength and Leave-supporting areas (watch out for Bolton, Oldham, Derby, and Sunderland).

On the other side of the coin, the 2016 Remain vote is currently fairly evenly dispersed mostly across four parties, according to current European and General Election voting intention. Each of Labour (with whom the current plurality of Remain voters lie), the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and Change UK are attracting at least 10% of Remain voters expressing intention to turn out on May 23rd. But what will these figures look like in the much-sooner locals?

ChangeUK will of course not be on any of the ballots, but their efforts to mobilise anti-Brexit voters present opportunities for other pro-EU parties who are contesting council seats. Labour’s current ambiguity and ongoing controversy of its backtracking on a confirmatory referendum (current party policy which is not featured in its election materials) means that, as with the Conservatives and 2016 Leave voters, Labour might struggle to hang on to its supporters who place high value on the issue of aborting Brexit and remaining in the European Union. Instead, the Liberal Democrats and Greens could be set to take advantage of strong pro-EU sentiments among many voters across different councils holding elections on Thursday.

Local authorities such as the Wirral, Wokingham, Trafford, St Albans, Liverpool, and Stockport all voted to Remain in the European Union on June 23rd 2016, and as such provide fertile ground for the two strongest advocates of remaining in the EU now (aforementioned Liberal Democrats and Greens) to pick up voters and win seats.

In all, the impact of Britain’s two newest political parties and the ever polarising and fraught political debate surrounding Brexit will undoubtedly have an impact on the upcoming local elections. Voters supercharged on pro-Brexit and pro-EU sentiments will, and particularly in the absence of the Brexit and Change UK parties, likely be driven toward supporting other non-traditional British parties in the Liberal Democrats, UKIP, and the Greens, who may well each have very pleasing news to wake up to on Friday 3rd.


Long Read: The 2019 Local Elections

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

So, the 2019 ordinary local elections are upon us. Until last month this was going to be the biggest electoral event of 2019, and in seat terms it still is with thousands of council seats up for grabs across England and Northern Ireland.

For the most part these local elections are to replace councillors elected in 2015, at a time when British politics was a very different place. The United Kingdom was a member of the European Union. The Conservatives had no majority in the House of Commons. Nigel Farage’s political vehicle was beating the Liberal Democrats in the opinion polls. The political classes were reeling from the result of a referendum, and the party system was undergoing realignment. A very different context indeed, I think you’ll agree.

The 2015 local elections were held at the same time as the 2015 general election, which to general surprise returned David Cameron as the first and so far only Prime Minister of a majority Conservative government since John Major. That wasn’t the first time this cycle of local elections were combined with something else; the 2011 local elections were held on the same day as the Alternative Vote referendum, while the polls in 2007, 2003 and 1999 coincided with devolved elections in Scotland and Wales. As can be seen, this is the first year since 1995 that this cycle of local elections has been able to stand on its own. (Which is another thing we can thank the current political deadlock for: had the European Parliament elections not been organised at the last possible moment, these local elections would in all probability have been delayed by three weeks to coincide with them.)

By coincidence, 1995 was a bloodbath for the Conservatives in local government. There are good reasons to expect that not to happen this time; at least, not on the same scale as the catastrophic defeats of yesteryear. Various reorganisations over the last decades, together with the work of the Local Government Boundary Commissions, have steadily reduced the number of councils and councillors up for grabs. Last month alone one county council and nine districts were wiped off the administrative map; their old councillors will leave office at this election and won’t be replaced.

So, the gains and losses aggregated over the country may not be comparable with previous years. The seat aggregates might be misleading as well, because not all districts are the same size. This year a third of Leeds city council, with over half a million electors, will be up for election; as will the whole of Rutland council with under thirty thousand electors. Despite their differing sizes they both count as one council; and it should be obvious that it will take fewer votes to elect a Rutland councillor than a Leeds councillor.

The aggregate votes will be misleading as well (yes, I’m looking at you, Aaron Bastani). Not all of the UK is holding elections this year. Not a single vote will be cast in Wales on 2nd May; Scotland will be represented by just one local by-election, Greater London by two local by-elections. There are no ordinary elections this year in Northumberland, Durham, Harrogate, Doncaster, Rotherham, Warrington, Shropshire, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Birmingham, Stroud, Gloucester, Huntingdonshire, South Cambridgeshire, Bristol, Wiltshire, Cornwall or the seven districts which renew half of their membership every two years. Even in the 248 districts in England (and the eleven in Northern Ireland) which are holding elections this year there are dozens of wards – particularly in deeply rural areas – which won’t go to the polls because only one candidate or slate has come forward. And there are many more areas which don’t have a candidate or slate from the Tories, or Labour, or the Liberal Democrats, or the Green Party, or UKIP. For those new media darlings Change UK and the Brexit Party (and that’s the only time you’ll see the B-word mentioned in this piece; isn’t that refreshing?) there are no or almost no candidates at all. These local elections came too early for them; as this column has pointed out on several occasions, the local election cycle turns more slowly than the 24-hour news cycle.

It’s because of interpretation difficulties like this that we have the Projected National Shares of the Vote, calculated by the BBC and by Rallings and Thrasher as estimates of what might have happened had the whole of the country voted. In 2015, when most of the councillors being elected this year started their terms, the BBC’s Projected National Shares were 35% for the Conservatives, 29% for Labour, 13% for UKIP and 11% for the Liberal Democrats; while last year Labour and the Conservatives were level on 35% each with the Lib Dems on 16%. These are only estimates, but they are at least an attempt to make some kind of comparable aggregate sense of the mass of information which will come out of the ballot boxes on Thursday evening and into Friday.

And “mass” is the correct word here. Democracy Club, who have done a brilliant job in compiling a complete candidate list, have found 25,778 candidates chasing 8,424 seats in 5,269 wards. Around 30 million people will be eligible to vote; depending on turnout, ten million or more ballot papers will be counted. Your columnist will probably take four years to get all of this analysed and recorded into his other website, Local Elections Archive Project. It’s a lot of information.

For that reason this piece is not going to preview every single race. I’d never finish a piece like that and you’d never read it. Instead I’m going to tour the country, touching on the more interesting councils and races and trying to find what are going to be the stories which will lead the news bulletins on 3rd May. If I’ve not covered a council here, it’s probably because this column’s assessment of the election is that it’ll be a boring hold for whichever party runs the council at the moment. Or it might just mean I’ve overlooked it. If you find a mistake in this, let me know (there probably are some mistakes); if you don’t agree with what I’ve written here or left out, feel free to prove me wrong! I’ll love it if you do. Thanks to all my Twitter followers who suggested interesting councils to look at; not all of your suggestions made it here, but most of them did. If you’re following election night this year, keep this guide with you; and remember to expect and to savour the unexpected. And before anybody asks about the maps, they are all from 2015 unless otherwise stated, so they represent the status quo ante. Read on…

North of Tyne

We start in the north-east corner of England with our only metro mayor election of the year. The snappily-named Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside and Northumberland Combined Authority is holding its inaugural mayoral election this year in the latest piece to fall into the jigsaw which is English devolution. The authority will have powers over investment, with economic growth, job creation and transport being major aims: the Combined Authority will have a budget of £600 million to invest in the area, will control the local adult education budget and will have the power to develop land for regeneration.

Important stuff, and apparently this needs an elected mayor to run it. The Mayor of the North of Tyne will be the seventh member of the Combined Authority’s cabinet, which also includes two representatives from each of the three constituent districts: Newcastle City Council, North Tyneside Council and Northumberland County Council. This is a seriously diverse area, running from the urban jungle of Newcastle all the way to the Scottish border at Berwick and the Cheviots. Included here are the Northumberland National Park, the English National Park with the smallest population; and most of the World Heritage Site of Hadrian’s Wall. There are some 880,000 people living within the area, the vast majority of those residing in the south-east corner in and around Newcastle, Tynemouth and the small mining towns. Despite the name, there is some territory here south of the Tyne, including the towns of Prudhoe and Hexham.

The three districts within the North of Tyne area are just as diverse. Newcastle upon Tyne city council has a strong Labour majority, with the Liberal Democrats (who ran the city in the late 2000s) forming the main opposition. Northumberland, on the other hand, last polled in May 2017 which was a disastrous election for Labour in north-east England; in that election the Conservatives came from a poor second to fall one vote and one seat short of an overall majority on Northumberland council. North Tyneside has an elected mayor, currently Labour’s Norma Redfearn, and has seen several very close mayoral elections in the past; however, the council currently has a strong Labour majority like Newcastle to the west. Redfearn is acting as mayor of the North of Tyne on an interim basis pending this election.

At parliamentary level this area is covered by nine constituencies, two in North Tyneside, three in Newcastle and four rather undersized seats in Northumberland; in the 2010 boundary changes Northumberland would have lost a seat had the Boundary Commission not invoked the “special geographical considerations” rule. Over those nine seats Labour polled 54% of the vote in the 2017 general election, to 36% for the Conservatives and 11% for everybody else. The Tories carried the two rural constituencies of Berwick-upon-Tweed and Hexham, with Labour winning the rest. Chi Onwurah in Newcastle upon Tyne Central had the distinction of winning the first declared result on election night; while the most experienced political figure from the area in this Parliament is the Labour chief whip Nick Brown, who has represented Newcastle upon Tyne East since 1983. Readers with longer memories may recall Brown as a particularly hapless agriculture minister in the Blair government, making an awful hash of the official response to the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak; an epidemic which started in the Northumberland village of Heddon-on-the-Wall. The two Labour MPs for Northumberland constituencies are also high-profile: Wansbeck’s Ian Lavery is the chairman of the Labour Party, a former NUM president and a persistent controversy magnet, while the Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell has been one of the party’s most consistent rebels in the recent Meaningful Votes.

So it would seem that this new mayoralty is Labour’s to lose, although complacency would be a bad idea as it so often is. The Labour candidate is Jamie Driscoll, who would appear from his policies and endorsements to be on the left wing of the party. His ideas include a “people’s bank”, a renewable energy company for the region and a series of housing co-operatives. He defeated for the Labour nomination Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle city council; Driscoll is a Newcastle city councillor himself, but has only served in the chamber since May last year after being elected for the city-centre Monument ward.

Driscoll’s Tory opponent is even more of a newcomer to elected politics. Charlie Hoult has made his name in business: he is a manager of a business park and his policies are very business-focused with investment in jobs, “emerging economies” and the Tyne and Wear Metro being major planks of his manifesto. Hoult has been endorsed by Sir John Hall, the property developer who used to own Newcastle United FC.

Three other candidates complete the ballot paper. The Lib Dems have nominated John Appleby, a former Newcastle city councillor and previously head of Newcastle University’s mechanical engineering department. Former Conservative North Tyneside councillor (William) Hugh Jackson, who was suspended by the party in 2008 for suggesting euthanasia as a way of reducing the council’s bill for children in care, is the candidate of that political misfits’ home UKIP, while completing the ballot paper is independent candidate John McCabe who is a former president of the North East England Chamber of Commerce. Whoever wins will be up for re-election in 2024 following a five-year term.

This mayoral election will be combined with elections to a third of Newcastle and North Tyneside councils and a by-election to the Holywell division of Northumberland council. This is the eastern half of Seaton Delaval, a village just outside Whitley Bay which is the home of a large factory making beauty products. The by-election has been caused by the death of Bernard Pidcock, whose daughter Laura was elected two years ago as the Labour MP for North West Durham; he leaves behind a division where Labour led the Tories 50-39 in the 2017 election. It may be a long shot for the Tories to gain this one, but if they can win the Holywell by-election they will get an overall majority on Northumberland county council.

The rest of the North East

For the rest of this piece I’m going to touch on my selection of the more interesting councils in this cycle. For the North East the stand-out council to watch is Hartlepool, where the ruling Labour group is suffering from infighting and has recently lost its majority after multiple councillors defected to Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party. The Pool has a strange political scene with independent councillors being the major opposition, and further Labour losses could allow the independents to take over here. As anybody who remembers the Monkey Mayor will know, it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.

Another Labour versus Independent race appears in Middlesbrough where the Mayor and council are up for election. Labour only gained the Middlesbrough elected mayoralty in 2015 after three terms of Robocop, and then only very narrowly defeated independent candidate Andy Preston in the runoff. Mayor Christopher Budd is standing down after one term of office; Mick Thompson is the new Labour candidate, Preston is back for another go, and there is also another independent and a Conservative in the race.

Redcar and Cleveland is the other hung council in the North East, with Labour narrowly missing out on a majority in 2015 thanks to a combination of infighting in the local party and continuing Liberal Democrat strength in Redcar town. By-elections in the borough have been encouraging for the Lib Dems and the Conservatives.

Sunderland has to be mentioned here because it has a famously quick counting team. The city has a Labour administration which is very locally unpopular while also having a very secure majority; that unpopularity will translate itself into some wild anti-Labour swings which will get noticed and over-analysed because they will be the first results to come in. Try not to read too much into these.

Durham council is not up this year but does have two by-elections. Labour are defending the Shildon and Dene Valley division in the south of the county, covering the mining and railway town of Shildon together with some outlying parts of Bishop Auckland; Samantha Townsend defends against challenges from the Lib Dems’ James Huntington and independent candidate Robert Ingledew, both of whom were not that far off winning a seat in 2017. A few miles to the north is the Spennymoor division which at local level has been taken over by an independent slate; Ronald Highley defends for the Spennymoor Independents, but with three other independent candidates on the ballot (one of whom was top of the Labour slate here two years ago) don’t rule out a split in the vote letting another party in. The Lib Dems ran second here in 2017 and their candidate is Martin Jones.

North West

Cumbria has a large number of councils which look interesting. Labour are defending a small majority in the city of Carlisle, which gets radical new ward boundaries this year with 13 councillors disappearing from the chamber. The party is just short of a majority in Allerdale, with strength in Workington and Maryport balanced by independent- and Tory-voting areas in the northern Lake District and in the rich agricultural land between Maryport and Carlisle.

The elected mayoralty in Copeland, based on Whitehaven and Millom, is the largest single contest in the North West. This was established in 2015 and was a surprising win for independent candidate Mike Starkie, who got into the runoff just ahead of the Tory candidate and then picked up the Tory transfers to beat Labour. Starkie is seeking re-election against opposition from Labour’s Linda Jones-Bulman and the Tories’ Ged McGrath. Since 2015, of course, Labour have lost the Copeland parliamentary constituency to the Conservatives in a famous 2017 by-election, and the Tories performed well here in the 2017 county council elections shortly after that.

In the Morecambe Bay area the Liberal Democrats are defending Tim Farron’s manor in South Lakeland, where the Tories have been making a very slow recovery in recent years; it will be interesting to see whether that continues. Across the sands is Lancaster council, which includes Morecambe and a very large rural hinterland; this was hung in 2015 but now has a Labour majority through defections and by-election gains. With reports of infighting in the local Conservatives the Labour party could be well-placed to make that majority official.

The only other Lancashire council worth mentioning here is Pendle. The Tories have a majority of one seat on Pendle council, and this year they are defending Reedley and Southfield wards in Nelson which both voted over 64% Labour last year, together with Vivary Bridge ward in Colne which was nearly lost to the Lib Dems twelve months ago. If Labour and the Lib Dems can get their act together this could go hung.

In Merseyside, Wirral has a chance of falling into No Overall Control; this has a Labour majority of six at the moment, but the party is defending Birkenhead/Tramnere and Oxton wards which respectively voted Green and Lib Dem in 2018. A Labour loss in Birkenhead/Tranmere would be particularly embarrassing as it’s the seat of the leader of the council. The party is also sitting on a small majority in Pensby/Thingwall ward and has suffered from infighting: a left-wing takeover during the last term has seen several Labour councillors walk out of the party. Sefton council is a happier story for Labour, who broke through to win seats in Southport for the first time in the 2018 local elections and have the chance for further gains this time.

The two big unitary councils in Cheshire are up this year. Cheshire West and Chester was a Labour gain with a majority of one in the 2015 local elections, and that majority has been successfully defended in several by-elections. The 2017 general election was very good for Labour here, as they gained the Weaver Vale constituency and made the City of Chester seat safe. There are new ward boundaries for this council with five seats disappearing. Cheshire East council, running from Crewe to Knutsford via Macclesfield, has a Conservative majority which doesn’t look in serious danger despite reports of multiple police investigations into the council administration.

There are three councils to watch in Greater Manchester, and they tell three contrasting stories. Stockport council will remain hung but could see a change of administration. The Conservatives did very well here in 2015, winning the most votes across the borough and seven wards; but all of those except the two Bramhall wards have since voted Lib Dem at least once, and the defending Tory councillor in Marple South/High Lane has gone independent. The Liberal Democrats, who are the second-largest group on the council with 21 seats (to 25 for Labour, 12 Tories and five independents) will however be on the defensive against Labour in Offerton ward (although the Lib Dems won here handily enough in 2018) and Cheadle Hulme North (a formerly safe ward which Labour gained by two votes last year). Labour’s best chance of a gain is in Manor ward where the defending Lib Dem councillor has gone independent; if they pick Manor up they will almost certainly remain as the largest party on the council. Manor is the only ward of these listed here which is in the Stockport constituency of Independent Group MP Ann Coffey. For the Lib Dems to form the administration, they will need to hold every seat they are defending and gain five seats from the Tories; not impossible, but not easy either.

2018 was the year when the Tory grip on Trafford council was finally broken, with Labour becoming the largest party. They are two seats short of a majority on 30, with 29 Conservative councillors and two Lib Dems and two Greens holding the balance of power. All the indications are that Labour will repeat the large number of gains they made last year to take an overall majority in Trafford, and it could be quite a big one.

Quite a difference from the Greatest Town in the Known Universe. I wrote in this column last year that the headlines on 3 May 2019 would read “LABOUR LOSE BOLTON”. Like every other political commentator over the last year, I was wrong: a catastrophic 2018 for Bolton Labour was capped in November by one of their councillors going independent, which put the ruling Labour group on 30 out of 60 seats and with no overall majority. The Conservatives are the main opposition on 19, with three seats each for the Lib Dems, UKIP and newcomers Farnworth and Kearsley First, and two independent councillors (one elected as Lib Dem, the other as Labour).

In 2015 Labour won fourteen of Bolton’s twenty wards. A repeat of the 2018 results would see them lose five seats nett, with the Conservatives gaining Breightmet, Horwich/Blackrod and Hulton, Farnworth and Kearsley First picking up Farnworth and Kearsley, and a Lib Dem gain in Westhoughton South. Labour are also in trouble in Horwich North East where the Lib Dems fell narrowly short last year, and their one realistic chance of a gain – your columnist’s own Little Lever and Darcy Lever, which was a Labour gain Labour last year but was the only ward in north-west England to vote UKIP in 2015 – is not nailed on, with the local Tories looking to tap into the rampant anti-council sentiment and UKIP councillor Sean Hornby seeking re-election. I’ve had a six-page leaflet off Hornby which barely mentions the B-word, instead focusing on his own record as a councillor. One more seat is likely to change hands: the Lib Dem defector is retiring in Smithills ward and the party should recover that seat without much trouble. The Liberal Democrats may also be tempted to have another go at Astley Bridge, where they came from nowhere to run the Conservatives close in 2018, and are now also the challengers to the Tories in Westhoughton North.

As can be seen there is little chance of Labour getting a majority back in Bolton in 2019, but as there are fewer realistic Tory targets than realistic Labour losses (the Conservative vote in Bolton is inefficiently distributed) the likelihood is that Labour will remain as the largest party on a hung council. It will be interesting to see what happens to the administration after the election, though.

Yorkshire and the Humber

Things are quieter in Yorkshire and the Humber, with fewer councils worth looking at. Yorkshire has nine metropolitan boroughs, all but one of which have Labour majorities: the odd one out is Calderdale, and that may well fall to Labour this year. Calderdale council currently has 24 Labour members, 20 Conservatives, six Lib Dems and two independents; there are six “split” wards with councillors from more than one party, and this May the Tories are defending every single one of them. Two of those split wards are Luddendenfoot and Sowerby Bridge where Labour had big leads last year, so the chances are that Labour will make the two net gains they need for overall control in Calderdale.

The rest of the Yorkshire Mets should see Labour retain their majorities, although there is one interesting coda to note. Steve Wilson, elected as a Labour member of Sheffield city council in 2015, is married to the Independent Group MP Angela Smith; he has joined his wife in leaving the Labour party, and is seeking re-election to the council in East Ecclesfield ward as an independent. With the Independent Group not having registered as a party in time to have official candidates at these local elections, this is as close as you’ll get this week to a Change UK candidature.

In North Yorkshire, York council has been excellently previewed by Pol Maps Info UK, and I commend that piece to you if you’ve not already read it (link). Outside the big city the Conservatives will be looking to gain overall control of the misnamed Scarborough council, which as well as the eponymous resort covers the Yorkshire coast from Whitby to Filey, although boundary changes make things difficult to predict there. There is one by-election to Craven district council from Upper Wharfedale ward: this is an enormous swathe of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, covering Wharfedale from Threshfield northwards. The Tour de France was here in 2014, with the first Yorkshire stage traversing the ward from south to north; before that came the film Calendar Girls, which was largely filmed in the village of Kettlewell at the centre of the ward. Upper Wharfedale is a very safe Conservative ward and their candidate Sue Metcalfe should be favoured.

The most interesting contest in the old Humberside area would appear to be for North East Lincolnshire council, covering Grimsby, Cleethorpes and their hinterland. This has a Labour minority administration at the moment, but Labour and the Tories are tied on 18 seats each with 22 necessary for a majority. Four net gains for either party to gain overall control looks like a big ask, but if the Conservatives become the largest party they may seek to take control of the leadership. That leadership is open at the moment after the previous Labour leader, Ray Oxby, abruptly resigned over a combination of (among other things) personal abuse from his constituents and controversy over a council plan to replace a roundabout in Grimsby. Proof, if proof were needed, that all politics is local.

East Midlands

There is less of interest in the rest of Lincolnshire; but one council which is likely to see a big swing compared to the 2015 result is Boston. The UK Independence Party carried Boston in the 2015 council elections with 34% of the vote; they won 13 seats and tied with the Conservatives for largest party status. Since then a series of by-elections and defections have given the Tories a majority with UKIP down to just six councillors; the Kippers crashed and burned in the 2017 Lincolnshire county elections, and Paul Nuttall (who was leading the party that week) had an appalling result five weeks later in the Boston and Skegness constituency. Now Boston can be a very volatile place at local level (in 2007 a pro-bypass independent slate came from nowhere to win an overall majority) but on recent form we can expect the Conservatives to make their majority official at the ballot box.

The biggest contest in the East Midlands region is for Leicester‘s elected mayoralty. Labour veteran Sir Peter Soulsby (who was first elected to Leicester city council as far back as 1974) is seeking re-election for a third term as Mayor; in 2015 he won in the first round with 55% of the vote, the Conservatives on 19% being his closest challenger. This time the Tory candidate against Sir Peter has government experience: Baroness Verma was a junior energy minister in the Coalition and served in the Department for International Development in Cameron’s second term, but she hasn’t featured in the May governments. Also standing are Stuart Young for UKIP, Mags Lewis for the Green Party, Nigel Porter for the Liberal Democrats, Stephen Score for the Socialist Alternative and independent candidate Sanjay Gogia. Not much else in Leicestershire looks likely to change significantly, although if the Tories are having a bad night Hinckley and Bosworth may be vulnerable to the Lib Dems.

Nottinghamshire, however, has some very interesting contests coming up with independents being at the heart of them. Mansfield‘s elected mayoralty has been in the hands of the Mansfield Independent Forum party since the post was created in 2002; the current mayor is Kate Allsop, who beat Labour 53-47 in the runoff four years ago. She is standing for a second term. The Labour selection had to be rerun twice after the original candidate fell out with the local party and the first replacement candidate was dropped for anti-Semitism; the party has ended up with Andy Abrahams, a former engineer and maths teacher, as their standard bearer. Independent candidate Philip Shields, who was third in the 2015 election, is having another go; another independent on the ballot paper is Stephen Garner, who was elected to Mansfield council in 2015 and Nottinghamshire county council in 2017 on the Mansfield Independent Forum slate. The Tories may hold the Mansfield parliamentary seat, but they don’t usually make a serious effort in the town’s local elections; and this is illustrated by the fact that their mayoral candidate this time is George Jabbour. The only person ever to have sought election in all four nations of the UK, Jabbour has previously contested and lost mayoral elections in Doncaster and Watford.

Next to Mansfield is Ashfield district, which doesn’t have an elected mayor but does have a figure with the profile of one. This column has previously covered the rise, fall and rise of Jason Zadrozny, whose Ashfield Independents won just one seat in the 2015 election – Zadrozny himself in Larwood ward, during his “fall” period. Ashfield’s Larwood ward is named after the great Nottinghamshire and England fast bowler of yesteryear, and like Harold Larwood in his prime Jason Zadrozny (once his recent legal troubles were over) wasted no time in getting the opposition out. He is now the leader of the council thanks to an enormous split in the local Labour party, which had won an overall majority here four years ago. Recent by-elections in the district have been stormed by Zadroznyite candidates, and this column will be surprised if the Ashfield Independents don’t win an overall majority. It could be a very large one.

Further south again is Broxtowe, which includes some ex-mining towns like Eastwood but is mostly Nottingham suburbia. This looks a more conventional contest, with a Conservative majority at the moment and independents almost nowhere to be seen. With one prominent exception: the local MP Anna Soubry, who is one of the three Conservatives to have joined the Independent Group. This is the first poll in Broxtowe since Soubry’s defection, and it will be interesting to see if there is any effect on the party contest here.

Over the county boundary in Derbyshire we have Amber Valley district, which was a top Labour target in the 2018 local elections; but that year saw the Conservatives increase their majority in this two-party state to 25-20. Despite that, Labour have a good shout at gaining control this time: this is the year in Amber Valley’s electoral cycle when the Tory-voting wards all come up for election at once, and Labour are only defending one seat from the 2015 result. The Conservatives are particularly vulnerable in the town of Belper, which is trending sharply to the left and has elections in all four of its wards; if the Conservatives lose three of those four, their majority will be gone.

Things are the other way round in the city of Derby, where Labour did very well in 2015 by winning eleven out of seventeen wards. Six of those wards voted for other parties last year (two going to UKIP!) as an unpopular Labour administration crashed and burned. One of the Labour councillors who lost their seats in 2018 was the leader of the council Ranjit Banwait, who was knocked out by UKIP; Banwait took his result to the Election Court, citing fake news on the UKIP leaflets, but he lost there as well. The Labour cause in Derby is unlikely to have been helped by the recent antics of controversy magnet and local MP Chris Williamson. Despite being the second-largest party on the council the Conservatives now run Derby as a minority, and if there is a further Labour collapse the Tories could become the largest party – although with UKIP and Lib Dem strength in various wards an overall Tory majority looks a big ask.

Finally, spare a thought for the electors of Northamptonshire. The gross financial incompetence of Northamptonshire county council means that the Northamptonshire district council elections have been cancelled, pending reorganisation of local government in the county. Unless there are by-elections in the interim Andrew’s Previews is likely to be next in Northants in 2020, when two new unitary councils are expected to hold their first elections.

West Midlands

The West Midlands region has lots of marginal parliamentary seats but relatively few marginal councils. One which however stands out is the volatile metropolitan borough of Dudley, control of which has seesawed wildly between the two main parties over the last year. Dudley had been Labour-controlled from 2012 to 2016 after the Labour party gained thirteen seats from the Conservatives in 2012, and a UKIP surge in 2014 also spelled trouble for the Tories. However, Labour lost five seats and their majority in 2016, and in May 2018 the Conservatives wiped out UKIP to take half the seats and minority control of Dudley council. Not for long, though: one of the Tory councillors defected to Labour a few months later, and that put Labour back in control of the council. Dudley currently has 36 Labour seats, 35 Conservatives and one ex-Tory independent; the Tories should recover the independent’s seat but there are relatively few easy gains for them in this cycle. Expect another close result.

Things are similarly knife-edge in Walsall, where long-standing Labour underperformance at council level finally fed through to Parliamentary level in 2017 as the Conservatives gained the Walsall North constituency. Walsall council has been Conservative-run since 2014; the party currently has 30 seats to 28 for Labour and two Lib Dems, and holds control on the mayoral casting vote. If the Tories can repeat their 2018 result here, they will gain an overall majority.

Outside the metropolitan county we have a similar story to the above two in Stoke-on-Trent, but with independents in the mix. The days when Stoke had an ever-changing carousel of independent groups on the council are behind us; instead we now have an umbrella independent group called the City Independents who since 2015 have run Stoke council in coalition with the Tories. Recent parliamentary results have not been encouraging for Labour, who lost the city’s South constituency to the Conservatives in 2017. On the other hand, anybody who tries to predict Stoke elections is asking for trouble. Just outside the Potteries conurbation we have a by-election to Newcastle-under-Lyme council in the rural Maer and Whitmore ward; this was 90% Conservative last year, and Graham Hutton should have no problem defending the seat for the party.

Labour are in a better position in Cannock Chase despite defending a majority of one. They hold 21 seats, to 15 for the Tories, three Greens, an independent (who was elected as Labour) and a Lib Dem. The Conservatives gained four seats in Cannock Chase last year but the map this year is far more difficult for them: a repeat of the 2018 results would see the Tories lose two seats (Hednesford Green Heath and Norton Canes) to Labour and Rawnsley ward to the Green Party. The Greens will also be looking to gain Hednesford South from Labour (that ward wasn’t up last year), while if the Lib Dems can gain a second seat from Labour in Rugeley’s Brereton/Ravenhill ward they will get group status back.

In the EU referendum there was only one local government district in the West Midlands which backed Remain. That was Warwick district, based on the Warwick-Leamington conurbation and the Coventry satellite town of Kenilworth. Warwick council has a large Tory majority which looks like it should continue; however, the gain of the Warwick and Leamington parliamentary seat by Labour in the 2017 general election may give Labour some hope of improving their position, if they can get their core vote in Leam to turn out.

Finally, a mention needs to be made for the large Herefordshire council, where the Conservatives go into this election with a narrow lead of 27 seats (one of which is vacant) to 25 for the opposition. The Tory administration in Herefordshire has been controversial and polarising, and so a hard-fought campaign can be expected between the Conservatives and the opposition, which is led by localist party It’s Our County and is particularly strong in Hereford. With large independent and Green caucuses on the council, and the candidate list giving suspicions of an electoral pact between the anti-Tory groups, we could have a chaotic result. The final outcome may not be clear until June when Ross North ward goes to the polls; that contest has been postponed after the UKIP candidate died.

East of England

We enter East Anglia by way of what may be one of the most hotly contested councils in this cycle: Peterborough. This was a Conservative gain in the 2018 election with a majority of just two, 31 out of 60 councillors; but that majority looks in some danger here, as the Tories stand to make a net loss of two seats if the 2018 results are repeated this year. On the other hand, Peterborough Labour (who form the main opposition) have problems of their own, compounded by the disgraceful case of their MP Fiona Onasanya who has now completed her sentence of three months’ imprisonment for perverting the course of justice. If Onasanya had been a local councillor, that sentence would have in and of itself have disqualified her from public office, and we would be having a by-election around now to replace her; instead this sorry figure continues to draw a generous salary at public expense, and the electors of the Peterborough constituency (which is smaller and more Labour-inclined than this district) have been inconvenienced by a recall petition to decide whether their MP should continue in office. Helpfully that petition closes at 5pm on Wednesday 1st May and the result is due to be announced on polling day. The expectation is that the recall petition against Onasanya will succeed; the expectations for the Peterborough local elections may need to be revised at the last moment in consequence.

East Anglia gives us our first scheme of this year’s local government reorganisation, as four district councils in Suffolk have been abolished and two new ones created. The tiny Forest Heath district (which was based on Newmarket and Mildenhall) and the St Edmundsbury district (Bury St Edmunds and Haverhill) have merged into a new larger district called West Suffolk, while there is also a new East Suffolk district which has absorbed the old Suffolk Coastal and Waveney councils and stretches along the littoral from Lowestoft to Felixstowe. Both of these new units should return Conservative majority councils without much trouble.

One other council in East Anglia worth a watch is North Norfolk. This returned a Tory majority in the 2015 general election, but the Conservative group has since fallen apart like a pack of cards and the Lib Dems are in minority control going into this election. North Norfolk is represented in Parliament by the Liberal Democrats’ Norman Lamb, so his party should be fairly well-resourced for the campaign.

Elsewhere in the region the Lib Dems will be looking to retain the Bedford mayoralty. Now, at parliamentary level Bedford is a key marginal which was one of the Labour gains in the snap election; but the constituency is tightly drawn around the town, and the Bedford district also includes a large rural hinterland. You might have expected this to tip the balance in favour of the Conservatives in the Bedford mayoral race, but you’d be wrong: the district’s first mayoral election, in October 2002, was won by local councillor Frank Branston standing for his own Better Bedford Party. Branston died in office in 2009 and the resulting by-election went to Dave Hodgson of the Liberal Democrats who has held the post ever since. In the 2015 election Mayor Hodgson had 31% of the first preferences, to 24% for the Conservatives, 20% for Labour and 16% for independent candidate Steve Lowe; and Hodgson beat the Tories 57-43 in the runoff. Dave Hodgson is standing for re-election for a third full term. His Tory opponent is Gianni Carofano, a Bedford councillor who runs a vehicle repair business; while Labour have selected former Bedford councillor Jenni Jackson. Steve Lowe has not returned, so completing the ballot paper are Adrian Haynes for UKIP, Hugh Nicklin of the For Britain Movement and Adrian Spurrell for the Green Party.

Essex has some interesting contests, starting in the north-east corner with the Tendring district, around Harwich and Clacton and including Douglas Carswell’s old constituency. Tendring gets new ward boundaries this year and will see big changes compared with the 2015 election, when the Tories had 23 seats and UKIP came from nowhere to win 22 on Carswell’s coattails; in an inspired move, the Conservatives offered UKIP a coalition deal and the UKIP group immediately split over whether to accept it. That was only the start of the falling-apart process for Tendring UKIP; there ere are now only eight Kippers left and the Conservatives have a majority on the council, which is likely to become official on 2nd May. But that won’t mark the end of this Tendring election, as one of the Conservative candidates for the new St Osyth ward has died and that ward will now go the polls on 23rd May.

The Conservatives are also the largest party on next-door Colchester council; however, they are one seat short of a majority and all the other groups on the council have banded together to form a rainbow coalition administration. A repeat of the 2018 results would see two gains for the Conservatives and give them overall control.

Tory prospects are also good in Thurrock, where a by-election gain in March left the ruling Conservative group two seats short of an overall majority; they have plenty of opportunities for gains this year from the Thurrock Independents, who won seven seats under the UKIP banner in 2015 and (if the March by-election is any guide) don’t have much chance of holding any of them.

The Liberal Democrats appear to be confident of a good result in Brentwood, which currently has a large Tory majority. The Conservatives did poorly here in 2018 and a repeat of those results would see them lose four seats, although that would still leave the Tories comfortably in overall control on 21 seats out of 37.

To the north of London, there are two councils where the Conservatives are on the defensive. The party has performed appallingly in Welwyn Hatfield district over the last electoral cycle, having won just three of the district’s seven Hertfordshire county council seats in 2017 and gone backwards on the district council in the 2018 election. One net loss for the Conservatives and their majority in Welwyn Hatfield will be gone, and four of the wards they are defending this year voted Labour or Lib Dem in 2018. The map above is from the 2016 Welwyn Hatfield election when the current wards came in.

The Tories are in an even worse position in next-door St Albans, where their ruling group has 30 of the district’s 58 seats to 17 for the Lib Dems (plus a vacancy), 6 Labour, 3 independents and a Green councillor. Again, one net loss and the majority is gone; and this year the St Albans Conservatives have fifteen wards and half their council group to defend. Six of those wards voted for other parties last year: Batchwood and London Colney went to Labour, Marshalswick North, Marshalswick South, St Peters and Verulam to the Liberal Democrats. If the Lib Dems can repeat those results and also gain Park Street ward, which was close in 2018, they will draw level with the Conservatives on the council.

South East

Normally I would continue perambulating around London with Buckinghamshire, but Buckinghamshire’s district councils have had their elections cancelled this year, pending a reorganisation which should see them swept away in 2020 in favour of a Buckinghamshire unitary council. This may be a relief for the Tories particularly in Aylesbury Vale, where the party has lost several rock-solid wards in recent by-elections along the proposed High Speed 2 route.

However Buckinghamshire’s largest settlement, the new city of Milton Keynes, went down the unitary route some time ago and is holding elections this year. Milton Keynes is a hung council and will probably remain so, with all three main parties having sizeable council groups; but major seat changes are likely in this election. The Tories are the largest group on MK council with 23 seats; no fewer than thirteen of those seats are up for re-election this year, and of those only three look completely safe. A repeat of the 2018 results would see Labour gain four seats and the Lib Dems three, which would make Labour (who currently run the council as a minority with Lib Dem support) the largest party on the council by a big margin.

In the Thames Valley, the Tories have a large but not particularly strong majority in the Vale of White Horse district: this south-western corner of Oxfordshire contains lots of high-end high-paying industries (Formula 1 car manufacturing, nuclear research, particle physics, commuters to Oxford University and the Swindon Honda plant) which are likely to be particularly badly affected by any future tightening of immigration rules when and if the UK leaves the European Union. A large part of the district is also within the Oxford West and Abingdon constituency which the Liberal Democrats gained in the 2017 general election. In the 2007 elections here the Lib Dems won twice as many council seats as the Conservatives in the Vale despite polling fewer votes; although the ward boundaries have changed since, it’s not impossible that something similar could happen again.

Moving into the Surrey commuter belt, the Tories have half of the seats on Elmbridge council which covers outer London suburbia on the railway lines into Wsterloo. This borough is a strong area for the Residents Associations, who work closely with the council’s Liberal Democrat group. If the 2018 results are repeated the Conservatives would gain one seat net and an overall majority; but with several wards being close fights this could go either way. A gain for the Residents would give them a second council to go with next-door Epsom and Ewell. That may be the constituency of international laughing stock Chris Grayling but you can’t reasonably put the blame for Tory underperformance in his district’s local elections at his door; the Residents have run Epsom and Ewell for decades and their council majority is in no danger whatsoever.

Further out from Epsom and Ewell is the Mole Valley district, based on Leatherhead, Dorking and associated towns in the North Downs. This has a Conservative majority of one seat, but the administration is a coalition of the Tories and the Ashtead Independents slate, with an active Lib Dem group forming the opposition. The Tories have already lost Bookham North ward in these elections because they failed to get their nomination papers in and will not be on the ballot; that cockup makes an already slim chance of holding their majority even less likely.

Yet another Surrey district where the Tories can only afford to lose one seat is Tandridge, the far east of the county around Caterham and Oxted. In 2015 the Tories won 12 out of 14 seats; since then independent and Residents groups have started to contest elections in Tandridge and are doing very well, so continued gains for them and losses for the Tories can be expected. Tandridge should go to No Overall Control.

There is also a by-election to Surrey county council from Haslemere division on the southern edge of the county. This was safely Conservative in the 2017 election but had been lost in 2013 to independent candidate Nikki Barton who stood down four years later. Malcolm Carter is the defending Tory candidate, and Barton is trying to get her old seat back.

In Kent, a special mention must be made for Gravesham council whose ruling Conservative group has split down the middle; the 13-strong Independent Conservative group is in minority control going into these elections, with Labour on 20 seats and the official Conservatives on 11. Most of the Independent Conservatives are not seeking re-election, reducing the chance of a right-wing vote split; which is important as Labour are not far in vote terms from gaining control. The Gravesham Tories tend to pile up uselessly large majorities in safe wards, so it’s perfectly possible for Labour to win a majority on this council without carrying the popular vote. There is also a county council by-election here in Northfleet and Gravesend West division to replace Labour county councillor Tan Dhesi, who was elected as MP for Slough two years ago; this is a marginal division which Labour’s John Burden will seek to defend from the Tories’ Jordan Meade.

Dhesi’s successor will be making regular trips to Kent county council’s headquarters in Maidstone, whose district council is currently hung; the Tories are the largest party on 24 seats, but the administration is run by a coalition of the Lib Dems (21) and the Independent group (5). With 28 seats needed for a majority, Labour and two other independent councillors hold the balance of power. The Lib Dems’ task in gaining the seats they need for a majority or largest party status has been complicated by the fact that they messed up their nomination papers and will not be on the ballot in their top target of North ward. One suspects that this one will remain hung.

Which brings us to Thanet, the place where Hengist and his wife (or horse?) Horsa landed in Britain according to that excellent history book 1066 and All That. UKIP tried to follow that book’s maxim that those who land in Thanet conquer Britain, but it didn’t work for Nigel Farage or (in the end) Thanet UKIP. Farage lost the South Thanet constituency in the 2015 general election, and the consolation prize of UKIP winning a majority on Thanet council resulted in yet another of the almighty splits which characterise nearly every sizeable UKIP elected group. Of the 33 Thanet Kippers elected in 2015 (to 18 Conservatives, 4 Labour and one independent) only 12 or 13 are still in the party, and the Conservatives are now in minority control. There are only three UKIP candidates for the 2019 Thanet election so major seat changes can be expected, and a Conservative overall majority looks the most likely outcome.

Our final piece of business in Kent is a second by-election to Kent county council, in the marginal Sittingbourne North division. Sarah Aldrdige is the defending Conservative candidate; Labour, who are not out of range if the Tories are having a bad night, have selected Tony Winckless.

Several Sussex councils look worth watching. We start at the northern end of the county with the New Town of Crawley, a two-party state with an interesting situation: there are currently 17 Conservatives opposing an administration of 20 Labour councillors. There are new ward boundaries in Crawley this year which means that all the councillors are up for election; at first sight these changes look good for the Tories in that a Labour ward is abolished and a new ward created in a Conservative-voting area, but the knock-on effects to other wards mean that things may not be quite that simple. This could go either way. Also in Crawley is a by-election to West Sussex county council for the Northgate and West Green division; this is a Labour seat which should be safe enough for their defending candidate Karen Sudan.

The Sussex coast is also interesting thanks to the influence of Brighton. The UK’s largest seaside resort, Brighton and Hove council has been hung since 2003 with a succession of different minority administrations: Labour from 2003, the Conservatives from 2007, and the (in)famous Green Party administration from 2011 which crashed and burned four years later. That 2015 election returned Labour to minority control with 23 seats, to 20 Conservatives and 11 Greens; some recent defections mean that the Conservatives became the largest party in February, but a Tory attempt to take over the council leadership going into this election failed. Labour did extremely well in Brighton and Hove at the 2017 general election, but converting that into a council majority is another matter entirely.

That Labour strength in Brighton has suddenly spilled over into Worthing over the last electoral cycle. Until 2017 Labour had never won a council seat in Worthing; they now have five, having won a by-election and four seats in the 2018 local elections. Worthing is run by the Conservatives and the Tory majority is not in serious danger this year, but it will be interesting to see if the Labour momentum can be maintained.

On the other side of the city, the Green Party strength has spilled over into Lewes district which now has three Greens and one Independent Green; the ruling Conservatives are one seat short of a majority in Lewes but the Liberal Democrats (who held the parliamentary seat until 2017) are eyeing up a gain. There are new ward boundaries here.

Another south coast city with a hung council is one which Andrew’s Previews has never previously discussed: Portsmouth. This is a shame because Portsmouth is a seriously volatile place politically: in the five elections from 2012 to 2018 only three of the city’s fourteen wards voted for the same party on every occasion. The Lib Dems had run the council until 2014, when a UKIP surge wiped out their majority and the Conservatives took minority control. In 2017 Labour gained the Portsmouth South parliamentary seat, and the Labour party followed up on that by gaining four wards in the 2018 election as UKIP were wiped out; that cost the Tories the votes which sustained their administration, and the Lib Dems are back in minority control. At the moment the Conservatives have eighteen seats (one of which is vacant), the Lib Dems are on seventeen, Labour have five and there are two independent councillors (both elected as Labour). The Conservatives are defending ten of their eighteen seats on Portsmouth council this year, so there is little prospect of them improving their position to get the council leadership back. A repeat of the 2018 results would see Labour gain Central Southsea and Fratton from the Lib Dems and St Jude from the Conservatives, while the Lib Dems gain Nelson and St Thomas from the Conservatives; that would mean that the Conservatives would fall behind the Lib Dems to become the second largest group.

The other hung council in Hampshire is Hart district, based on obscure towns like Fleet off the M3 motorway between Farnborough and Basingstoke. This is one of if not the least-deprive districts in England. Here again the Conservatives are the largest party, but the administration is a coalition of the localist Community Campaign party and the Lib Dems. In recent years those two parties have had an electoral pact in Hart district; that pact has been renewed this year, and with over half of the Conservative group up for election we can expect the coalition to increase its majority.

Further down the M3, the Conservatives are in serious trouble in the Winchester district. This includes a large rural area outside the city itself, which provides most of the Tory councillors; but overall the council is finely balanced with 23 Conservative councillors against 22 Lib Dems. If the wards vote the same way this year as they did last year, the Lib Dems would gain six seats and have quite a large majority.

South West

Our final English region is the South West which has been the focus of much reorganisation this year. The present local government structure in Dorset – unitary Bournemouth and Poole councils, a county council and six district councils – is being swept away and replaced by two new unitary councils. One of these is for the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole conurbation, while the other covers the rest of the county and has been imaginatively named “Dorset“. The old Weymouth and Portland council was a psephological mess which could elect pretty much any party and often had chaotic election results; but all the other old bodies had Conservative majorities and it seems likely that the two new unitaries will follow that. The new Dorset council is intended to have its elections in the county council years in future, and as a result its next two elections will be in 2024 then 2029 to get it onto the right four-year cycle.

Somerset has most of the remaining interesting contests. These include our final new council, Somerset West and Taunton; this is a merger of the old Taunton Deane district with the tiny and deeply rural West Somerset district. The new council is a far-flung area which covers most of the Exmoor National Park. Both of the former districts had Tory majorities, but the Lib Dems are still strong in Taunton town – they held the Taunton Deane parliamentary seat until 2015 – and West Somerset had an independent tradition until not so long ago. A Conservative majority here is not nailed on if they are having a bad night.

Next door to the new district is South Somerset council, another far-flung district based on Yeovil. This is Liberal Democrat-run; the party won 29 out of 60 seats in 2015, one more than the Conservatives, despite polling 36% of the vote when the Tories had 44%. Since then two Tory councillors have defected to the Lib Dems giving them an overall majority; but with shares of the vote like that it can’t be a strong majority. This is one to watch.

Another one to watch is Bath and North East Somerset, the political home of young fogey Jacob Rees-Mogg. His constituency covers the rural North East Somerset half of the district; but the Tories also have seats to defend in the city of Bath which the Lib Dems gained in the 2017 general election on a big swing. If the Liberal Democrats can keep that momentum going the Tory majority on “BANES” council – they currently have 36 out of 65 seats – could be in danger. There are new ward boundaries here.

In Gloucestershire there is a by-election to the county council in Churchdown division, a large village midway between Gloucester and Cheltenham, following the death of Liberal Democrat county councillor Jack Williams at the appallingly early age of 28. Benjamin Evans defends a seat which looks safe enough for the party.

The Forest of Dean, on the west bank of the Severn in Gloucestershire, had a mess of an election in 2015 with the Conservatives finishing as the largest party on just 30% of the vote, Labour coming in second and sizeable UKIP and independent caucuses being elected. Things have only got more messy since: the are now nine different political affiliations on the council, with the Conservatives (19) ahead of Labour (9), “Forest First” (which appears to be a Labour splinter group, 5), UKIP (4), independents (4), non-aligned councillors (3), Greens (2), an “ungrouped Conservative” and an “ungrouped independent”. The council leader is a Forest First councillor who has put together a rainbow coalition of all the small groups to run the council, with support from Labour. As if you thought things couldn’t get any more weird in the Forest, one of the outgoing Green councillors will be left with a permanent reminder of this election after having part of his finger bitten off by a dog while on the campaign trail. (I wonder whether he put the dog down as a “possible”?)

Another area populated by dog lovers – although only 79 of them according to the 1979 general election result – is the North Devon district, based on Barnstaple and Ilfracombe. This is currently run by a coalition of the Tories and the “South Molton Independents”, who between them have 21 seats on the council and a majority of one. With this being a Lib Dem target seat for the next general election the result here should be watched closely.

We finish our tour of the ordinary local elections in England in the city where Rallings and Thrasher, the semi-official collators of UK local election results, are based. This is Plymouth, a city which is closely fought between Labour and the Conservatives; Labour are on top at the moment with 30 seats, to 26 Conservatives and an independent Labour councillor, and if last year’s results are any guide look set to increase their majority. If you watch Plymouth for nothing else, keep an eye on the Pets for Labour Twitter account, run from Plymouth by Labour councillor and diehard Andrew’s Previews fan Jonny Morris; he will inject a bit of animal magic into your life as a respite from these stressful political times. Sadly this election we will be without Morris’ own feline “special adviser” Max, who passed away earlier this year; Max was due to have a starring role in the forthcoming Andrew’s Previews 2018 book, and I know from Morris that Max was thrilled at the prospect.

Scotland and London

That just leaves three local by-elections to consider. Our Scottish by-election is in the North East ward of the city of Dundee, a series of estates on the northern edge of the city; this returned two SNP councillors and one Labour councillor in 2017, and the Labour seat is up in this by-election. The SNP had a big lead here in the 2017 council elections and this should be an easy pickup for their candidate Steven Rome; Jim Malone has the task of defending for Labour.

We finish in London, which sees two by-elections to Lewisham council. The high councillor attrition rate of Evelyn ward means that its electors are participating in a fourth by-election in six years; down by the riverside, this ward is named after the seventeenth-century diarist and former resident John Evelyn and covers the core of Deptford. At the far end of the borough is Whitefoot ward on the Downham estate, which has been vacated by Janet Daby following her win in the Lewisham East parliamentary by-election last year. Both of these are rock-solid Labour wards which should elect the party’s candidates (respectively Lionel Openshaw and Kim Powell) without any trouble.

A final mention goes to Northern Ireland, whose eleven district councils will hold their second election this year. As this column explained last year Northern Ireland uses proportional representation for its council elections, so seat changes are likely to be small and by-elections are rarer than hen’s teeth. There has been just one poll in Northern Ireland since the 2017 general election, a council by-election in Carrickfergus in which the DUP picked up a seat vacated by an independent councillor. This column does not claim to be expert in the politics of the province and so I shall not trouble you with profiles of the eleven Northern Irish districts; but there are other bloggers and experts you can check out if you are that way inclined. Recent local government reorganisation in the province means that Northern Ireland’s last council elections were in 2014, and the current members of the province’s local councils are the last local councillors remaining who were elected in that year. Once these local elections are over, the Coalition era will finally pass into political history.

The Britain Elects team will of course endeavour to keep you updated with the election results, cutting through the Wild Twitter Rumours from the counts to bring you solid hard facts. Get ready for what’s likely to be a bumpy Thursday night and Friday which will most likely confound whatever expectations you might have. And once you’ve digested it all, before you know it Andrew’s Previews will return next week with the first by-elections of the 2019-20 electoral year, which take place in East London and East Lothian on 9th May in what might be a very different political context. Stay tuned.

Andrew Teale


Previewing the Battle for York

by Luke Dickinson, of Twitter’s PolMapsInfoUK.

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

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

The safe Labour wards:

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

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

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

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

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

The safe Conservative wards:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The safe Liberal Democrat wards:

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

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

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

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

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

Fishergate – the safe Green ward:

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

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

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

The Labour-Green battlegrounds:

• Guildhall (3)
• Micklegate (3)

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

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

Prediction:

Guildhall:

Green HOLD.
Labour HOLD.
Labour HOLD.

Micklegate:

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

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

Acomb – the Tory-Labour battleground:

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

Both incumbents are standing again.

Prediction:
Labour HOLD.
Labour GAIN from Conservative.

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

Westfield – the Labour-Lib Dem battleground:

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

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

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

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

Osbaldwick & Derwent:

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

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

Prediction:
Conservative HOLD.
Independent HOLD.

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

The Tory-Lib Dem battlegrounds:

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

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

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

Strensall:
Conservative HOLD.
Liberal Democrat GAIN from Conservative.

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

Rawcliffe and Clifton Without:

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

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

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

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

The Conclusion and Final Tally:

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

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

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

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