Today’s the day
This week's highlights
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.
Our final ones to watch for this set of local elections come from the West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber.
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 Coventry, Wolverhampton 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 Bromsgrove, Redditch Borough Council, Rugby 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.
A summary of this week’s elections news
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.
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.
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
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.
Make sure you check out...
State of the Locals: new polling data and why these elections really matter
The LGIU and Ipsos conducted research into people’s attitudes towards local elections and how much they understand about Voter ID. Catch up on the full findings plus the panel discussion where we launched the results. Find out more.
Global Local: declining trust in electoral systems
In this issue of Global Local, we’ve look at how local elections can operate at their best in an age of declining trust in electoral systems and results. Read Global Local.
The impact of Voter ID: FAQs
Voter ID was required in the May 2023 local elections for the first time. And everyone has questions about it – of course. Dr Greg Stride answers some of the big ones for us the day after the elections. Read this article.
Are you an LGIU member?
The LGIU – Local Government Information Unit – is a not-for-profit, non-partisan membership organisation. We are for local government and anyone with an interest in local democracy and finding local solutions to the challenges that we all face. Our resources, innovative research and connections are relied on by colleagues across the globe. If you are a councillor or employee of one of our member organisations, then you too are a member – sign up on our website today and start using all of your member-only resources.
Not a member – why not find out more?