England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance

2013 local elections: final thoughts & reflections


As the local elections draw to a close, LGiU and our guest panel offer some reflections.

Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of LGiU

As declarations draw to a close one can’t help feeling this is a rather paradoxical set of election results: at once utterly extraordinary and rather banal.
Extraordinary in as far as UKIP have taken an unprecedented share of the vote for a fourth party and have converted this into seats. The national media is thus full of speculation about whether this is a watershed moment for British politics.

Well maybe, but on the other hand the outcome is rather banal in as far as not much has actually changed. UKIP will not be in a position to influence policy in any council. Labour have taken control of only two councils and while the Conservatives have lost nine councils to NOC they remain the largest group within them and will be able to shape policy.

It’s hard to imagine that any of the three major parties will be feeling particularly happy this evening, but on Tuesday morning it will be business as usual in councils across the country.


Lewis Baston, guest psephologist

When I worked at the Electoral Reform Society, we would look at all the local election results for wards in which the winner had an improbably low share of the vote. This would have been a very easy exercise this year, because the splintering of the vote between four biggish parties (and locally significant forces in some areas such as the Greens and Independent groupings) means that it has been possible to win county electoral divisions with some incredibly low shares of the vote.

So far, the winner in 2013 is Robert Webber, elected Labour councillor for Camborne Treslothan on 19.8 per cent of the vote. There may be somewhere that beats it, but I doubt it. This does raise a question of whether, if multi-party politics is the future (and I think it is) whether this amounts to a mandate to give exclusive representation to an area. I have no doubt that Mr Webber will do a good job for all his constituents – the majority who did not vote, and the 80 per cent of those voting who didn’t support him as well as those who did – but one does have to wonder whether the local electoral system is fit for purpose.

The same sort of minority mandate is apparent at the level of council control – in Essex the Conservatives have a majority with 35 per cent of the vote (although, in fairness, the Tories are probably the mid-point of the range of political views expressed in Essex yesterday). With low turnout, and low confidence in local democracy, reforming the electoral system may be a modernisation worth considering for local government.


Jonathan Werran, The MJ

For those hoping to spend a pleasant and relaxing May bank holiday weekend, spare a thought for the dozen or so councils where no party has overall control, and officers and newly elected members will have to wrestle over the issue of forming stable administrations.

The Local Government Association’s recent paper ‘No overall control: the experience of chief executives in councils without a majority administration’ will prove essential reading for some as they seek to cut the most appropriate local deals and end the prospect of deadlock and long weeks of haggling.

It’s inevitable that the UKIP surge will dominate the weekend headlines.  According to Cllr Gary Porter, leader of the Conservative Group at the LGA: ‘You can’t take it away from UKIP – it’s a flipping good result for them.’

Cllr Porter, leader of South Holland DC said UKIP’s surge would add a new dynamism to local politics, but urged the Conservatives to avoid any knee-jerk response and should instead analyse whether voters stayed at home or voted in protest against them.

Cllr David Sparks, leader of the Labour Group at the LGA said Labour progress had been solid and provides firm grounds for optimism in next year’s elections in metropolitan and London boroughs – and with it, complex equations notwithstanding, control at Smith Square in 2014.


Anthony Zacharzewski, demsoc

It’s hard to know whether this election was massive or mundane. Looking at vote share it was massive. UKIP did much better than expected – its vote almost matching the share of Beppe Grillo’s Movement 5 Star in Italy. Looking at seats and political control it was surprisingly mundane. Only three authorities flipped from one party to another, though more fell into No Overall Control. UKIP won far fewer seats than the Lib Dems, even though they had a much higher vote share.

What are the bigger lessons? First, we now have a four-party electorate being run through a two-party election system – making a even stronger case for voting reform in local government.

Second, the disillusion with politics is as fierce as ever – and UKIP’s vote didn’t come from the non-voting population, as turnout was broadly flat.

All the main parties have a task to do, but it’s more than wooing back the UKIP voters – it’s bringing back the country.