LGIU and Vuelio 2023 Elections Bulletin - 4 May

Today’s the day

Image: Benjamin44 via istock

This week's highlights

With the party trailing behind in the polls, senior Conservative figures have been engaged in serious expectation management since early on in this local election campaign.

These elections will also be a big test for Labour, and whether they are on track to rebuild the red wall which collapsed dramatically back in the 2019 general election. Eyes will be on traditional Labour areas such as Burnley and Pendle.

In the South, the Tories face Lib Dem attacks on the ‘blue wall’, rural middle class areas which may have grown disillusioned with the Conservatives. There is also some evidence of increased willingness to vote tactically amongst the electorate, which could pose a further threat to some Conservative held councils.

Most of the seats up for grabs were last contested in 2019, a year which saw a surprising rise in the number of independent candidates, a reflection of the waning popularity of the two largest parties. The South-East in particular seems to be a hotspot for independents, with five district councils in Kent, Sussex and Surrey having a leader who is independent or belongs to a residents’ association. It will be interesting to see if this year’s local elections see a reversal of this trend.

Local elections in England 2023

Our final ones to watch for this set of local elections come from the West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber.

Image: via istock

West Midlands

Picture of two maps of the West Midlands, one showing councils holding elections in 2023 and the other showing the marginality of each council.

Twenty-five councils are holding elections in the West Midlands, this includes: 17 district councils, six Metropolitan district councils and two unitaries.

Four years ago, Conservatives lost control of Herefordshire Council. There are at least four different types of Independents in Herefordshire and two of the groupings plus the Greens form the administration. Conservatives are still the largest ‘Westminster party’, but they would face an uphill climb to retake control.  Currently Stoke-on-Trent is a Conservative minority administration just shy of a majority. With a large grouping of independents,  it could stay NOC, just in a different shade if Conservatives fail to do well. The other unitary council with elections in the West Midlands, Telford and Wrekin, has a more comfortable Labour majority.

Only one of the Metropolitan District Councils polling in this region has all its seats up for election, Dudley Borough Council, which has a comfortable Conservative majority. The three Labour councils CoventryWolverhampton and Sandwell seem to have secure majorities. Solihull, once solidly Conservative, now has the narrowest of majorities, with a growing presence of both Green councillors and mixed fortunes at best for the Liberal Democrats over the last few years.

After a seven seat loss in 2019, Conservatives are still the largest party in Wyre Forest, but don’t have quite enough for a majority. A coalition of everyone else, including two Independent groupings run the council. Malvern Hills is in a similar position, but with a larger proportion of independent councillors and an Independent/ Liberal Democrat coalition. Warwick District Council has a Conservative/ Independent coalition with the Conservatives the largest party grouping by far.

Worcester City Council has been swinging between Conservative and NOC for the last twenty years and is currently a Conservative minority administration. Stafford Borough Council also has a Conservative minority administration, and the independent grouping has developed into a stand-alone party the Stafford Borough Independents registered with the Electoral Commission. There is also a controversial plan for housing asylum seekers in and around the market town which may raise the heat locally.

Stratford-on-Avon has been in Conservative control for two decades but currently has the slimmest majority. Other Conservative councils in the region with small majorities include BromsgroveRedditch Borough CouncilRugby Borough Council and Staffordshire Moorlands.  The remaining district councils in the West Midlands are in Conservative control with more comfortable majorities.

Yorkshire and the Humber

This region has five unitaries and seven metropolitan districts with elections this year.

In 2022, the Liberal Democrats ended Labour’s 10 year control of Kingston-upon-Hull City Council. With just a two seat edge over the Labour group, Liberal Democrats will be working hard to keep control of their only council up for election in this region.

Sheffield City Council has a multi-party coalition across Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Greens. Labour is the largest grouping and has the least distance to travel to an outright majority needing to win five seats. It’s within reach, too, with only a small swing from the LibDems to make the ground.

The City of York has a LibDem and Green coalition, but Labour aren’t far behind the Liberal Democrats and the elections are all out. Cllr Keith Aspden, a 20 year council veteran, who has lead the LibDem group for a decade and has been leader for the past four years is standing down at the election.

Two Labour mets have a razor edge majority. A single seat is the balance in Kirklees and Labour is barely more secure in Calderdale, both are electing by thirds. In Calderdale, a controversial local housing plan may drive voter intent.

For further analysis have a look at LGIU’s Ones to watch guide to the 2023 local elections.

In the news

A summary of this week’s elections news

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Dozens of ‘blue wall’ councils being targeted by tactical voters

Research from Compass, the centre left pressure group, has found that there are 39 Tory led ‘blue wall’ councils, in which the Tories won overall control with less than 50% of the vote. The campaign group are using this research to call for tactical voting, arguing that left leaning voters should vote for the party which has best chance of defeating the Tory. Canterbury, Ashford, Harlow, East Hampshire, West Berkshire, Mid Sussex, East Hertfordshire, Basildon and Braintree are among the key marginals where tactical voting by Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green voters could change who has control of the local authority. There is evidence of increasing coordination between local party groups, although this is being done discretely, without the endorsement of the national parties.

Source: The Independent

Five Tory councillors suspended for alleged racism are standing in local elections

Research from the anti-facist group Hope not Hate, has found that five Conservative councillors standing in this week’s local elections in England, have previously been suspended for alleged racism and Islamophobia. So far, none of the five or the national Conservative party have responded to request for comment. Georgie Laming, director of campaigns and communications at Hope Not Hate, said: ‘There is an alarming trend of Conservative party candidates and councillors who have been exposed for racism, Islamophobia, antisemitism and as crank conspiracy theorists. Their vetting and disciplinary systems either don’t work or are inconsistent. All mainstream parties must have a zero tolerance policy. The Conservative Party has a long way to go to prove this’.

Source: The Guardian

Labour hopes York's 'blue badge ban' will turn city red

Labour are hoping that the outcry over blue badge parking restrictions introduced by York City Council will help them oust the current Lib Dem-Green coalition. Until 2020, the council allowed blue badge holders to access and park in pedestrianised areas, however this exemption was removed during the pandemic, sparking backlash from disability rights campaigners who say they are being excluded from the city centre. The council maintains that the ban is a necessary counter-terror measure. Government minister Lee Rowley, in a parliamentary debate last week called by York Central’s Labour MP, Rachael Maskell, urged the council to consider if it was ‘unduly imposing on the rights and freedoms of disabled residents’. Labour have made overturning the ban a key pledge of their campaign in York, where they have the potential to seize full control of the council.

Source: BBC

Stoke-on-Trent is Labour’s most crucial race

All 44 seats of the council seats are up for grabs and the results won here could set the political tone for the next general election. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves are amongst those who have visited the Staffordshire city. Labour has not led the authority since 2015 and has lost three by-elections since 2019 and in 2019 the Tories won all three of the city’s parliamentary seats. The local elections also places a great test for the Conservatives as they currently lead the council in a minority administration with 22 of the 44 seats.


Key battlegrounds that pose a threat for the Tories

With the run-up of local elections Rishi Sunak is facing the first major test of his premiership. With more than 230 seats up for grab Tory chiefs are publicly warning that the party could lose more than 1,000 seats. During this election Labour will be looking to capitalise on its strong polling lead to reverse the losses the party suffered in 2019 under Jeremy Corbyn, and the Liberal Democrats are hoping to build on strong by-election performances to seize councils in rural and middle-class areas.

Source: The Telegraph

Tories forecast to lose just 250 seats as Rishi Sunak avoids local election wipeout

It is forecasted that the Tories are predicted to lose just 250 council seats during the elections this week with senior party figure, Greg Hands fearing that up to 1,000 of the councillors would be ousted. A member of the British Polling Council predicts the Tories will forfeit 258 council seats and finish the night with a total of 3,043 in the areas contested. However, according to another forecast Labour is on course to gain 408 councillors leaving it with a total of 2,487.

Source: The Mirror

Liberal Democrats hope to turn blue tide in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council

All 76 seats on Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole will be up for election this year as the Liberal Democrats will be looking to gain a majority come poling day. Political fortunes have swung back and forth since the authority was created in 2019 and in 2020, a Liberal Democrat-led ruling alliance collapsed amongst defections and disagreements, swinging the pendulum in favour of a Conservative minority. The Liberal Democrats will be seeking to capitalise on liberal Conservative voters who have been turned off by the recent political turmoil and are also feeling the effects of hikes in mortgage costs. Meanwhile, Labour are campaigning on trust issues in the council to boost their chances of winning, and the Green Party are looking to tackle neighbourhood issues in their attempt to win more seats.

Source: BBC

Labour sends in hit squads to boost election wins

Failing local Labour groups put under the supervision of the party’s HQ have been asked to reflect on the leadership style of one of the most well-known and successful army commanders in order to win at the ballot box. Labour HQ has sent in campaign improvement boards to groups on councils across the country in an attempt to improve what Labour has to offer and create more wins locally. But the implementation of the boards — described as ‘control-freakery’ by one member of Labour’s ruling body — has reignited a row with leftwingers who claim they are victims of a purge.

Source: The Times

Everything you need to know about...


How many councils there are

In some areas of England, local government is divided between a county council (upper-tier) and a district council (lower tier), which are responsible for different services. In other areas, there is a single unitary authority instead.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland there are only unitary, single-tier councils.

There are 318 principal (unitary, upper and second-tier) councils in England, including 21 county councils, 164 district councils, 131 unitaries and 2 Sui Generis authorities.

England – there are 318 councils in England.

  • 21 County Councils (upper-tier)
  • 164 District Councils (lower-tier)
  • 32 London Boroughs (unitary)
  • 36 Metropolitan Boroughs (unitary)
  • 63 Unitary authorities (unitary)
  • 2 Sui Generis authorities – City of London Corporation and Isles of Scilly (unitary)

Wales has 22 unitary authorities, Scotland 32 unitary authorities and Northern Ireland has 11.

There are around 11,930 local councils in the UK, including town, parish, community, neighbourhood and village councils. (Source: House of Commons Library.

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