One week later
This is our final elections bulletin of the 2023 English local elections, delivered in partnership with the political team at Vuelio.
This week's highlights
The Conservatives lost 1,060 seats in last week’s elections, relinquishing control of 48 councils across the country. As was widely predicted, Labour made significant gains across marginal and Red Wall councils, picking up more than 500 seats. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats swept across the Blue Wall, winning 12 councils.
Labour Leader Keir Starmer has claimed his party’s performance has set them ‘on course for a Labour majority at the next general election’ with Labour now the largest party in local government, surpassing the Tories for the first time since 2002. Labour took control of authorities across the general election battleground, including High Peak, Swindon and Plymouth.
At a meeting of his shadow cabinet on Tuesday, Starmer said ‘people who turned away from us during the Corbyn years and the Brexit years are coming back’. The leaders of the 22 councils won by Labour have been tasked with drawing up ‘emergency cost of living plans’ within their first 100 days.
Labour does indeed seem to be bridging the Brexit divide, as the party made its largest gains in areas with the highest Leave vote. Many of Labour’s biggest gains came in Brexit heartlands such as Stoke, Mansfield and Hartlepool. The Johnson 2019 strategy was focused on attracting Red Wall Leave voters while holding on to Blue Wall Remain voters, however, with both Brexit ‘done’ and Corbyn gone, this strategy has collapsed.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has described the loss of more than 1,000 councillors as ‘disappointing’ but insisted he would ‘strain every sinew’ to fulfil his pledges on the economy, NHS waiting lists and small boats. On Tuesday he insisted those pledges are ‘the right ones’ to win back voters. However, some Conservative MPs have suggested Sunak will need to do much more than reiterate those pledges in order to improve the Conservatives’ position ahead of a general election. The Conservative MP for Swindon Justin Tomlinson said the results were ‘devastating’ and should serve as a ‘wake-up call for the party at all levels’. Talking to Times Radio, he criticised the Conservatives’ appeal to voters, adding it lacked a ‘coherent message’.
The Conservative Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, who is up for election next year, said the Conservatives’ losses were in part due to ‘the turmoil and upheaval of the last 12 months’. Similarly, in Swindon, where Labour took control for the first time in 20 years, overthrown Tory council leader David Renard blamed ‘the cost of living and the performance of the Government in the last 12 months’ for his party’s poor results.
In much of the country, it was the Liberal Democrats who benefited from the Conservatives’ decline. Achieving a share of 20% – the highest since the coalition in 2010 – Lib Dem Leader Ed Davey called it their ‘best result in decades’. Davey said he would table a vote of no confidence in the Government when Parliament returns: ‘The local elections showed that the public clearly has no confidence in Sunak or the Conservatives, so it’s time for a general election now. There’s only one reason Rishi Sunak would deny British people a say at the ballot box: because he is running scared and knows he’d lose.’ However, the Lib Dems are not able to force a debate on the motion, so it is likely to end up being mainly symbolic.
The Green Party gained 241 seats – their best-ever result in local elections – and gained its first majority on an English council, in Mid-Suffolk, although they were overtaken as the biggest party by Labour in Brighton and Hove.
So that’s a wrap for English local elections this year.
You can find all our on the day reporting of the local elections results in on our Local elections 2023: results and analysis page. And in this video LGIU’s Dr Greg Stride talks us through some of the key results from a geographical perspective.
A summary of this week’s elections news
Green Party makes record gains
The Green Party has had its best ever local elections, gaining more than 240 seats across England and successfully taking control of Mid Suffolk Council. While the Greens have previously run a minority administration in Brighton and Hove Council, Mid Suffolk is the Greens’ first ever majority council, holding 24 out of 34 seats. The party has had particular success at targeting Tory seats in rural areas, becoming the largest party in East Hertfordshire and Lewes in East Sussex. The Greens have also taken seats from Labour in some areas, though Labour has regained control of Brighton and Hove Council. The Greens’ Co-Leader Carla Denyer said her party had capitalised on ‘a deep dislike of the Tories and Starmer’s uninspiring Labour’, adding: ‘it is also clear that voters have responded positively to our practical solutions to meet concerns on issues such as the cost of living crisis, housing, underfunded and rundown public services and the state of our rivers’.
Labour has won back swathes of Brexit voters
Analysis of election data reveals that the Labour party is up 7 points compared with 2021 in the most pro-leave wards, suggesting that the coalition of support built by Boris Johnson is collapsing. Senior Labour figures have interpreted the data as showing promise that Labour is on the right track to take back red wall seats at the next general election. Robert Ford, Politics Professor at the University of Manchester, said that in 2021 ‘Voting leave was a very strong predictor of voting Tory. Now it is fading. Our statistical modelling shows it is much weaker now. We can say people are voting less in line with their Brexit preferences than they were a couple of years ago’.
Source: The Guardian
Tory Chairman mocked for having ‘midas touch’ for opposition at local elections
Conservative Party Chairman Greg Hands has been mocked by opposition parties after figures showed that the Tories performed badly in many of the places he visited during the campaign. Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper said: ‘He was brought in to shore up the blue wall but ended up seeing it collapse even more’. After their recent success taking control of blue wall councils, the Lib Dems are now saying they will target 20 Tory blue wall seats at the next general election. Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey is also set to table a motion of no confidence in the Government – a move which would force a general election if it were passed by the Commons.
Source: The Independent
Starmer warns his party 'the hardest part lies ahead'
Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer told his senior shadow ministers on Tuesday there is ‘more work to be done’ after the strong local election results. Sir Keir Starmer says the ‘hardest part lies ahead’ and Labour must show it can form a ‘big reforming government.’ Starmer will meet with the leaders of all 22 councils which were won by Labour which include areas that voted heavily for Brexit, such as Dover and Stoke on Trent. He has told his Shadow Cabinet that ‘people who turned away from us during the Corbyn years and the Brexit years are coming back’.
Source: The Independent
Tories misjudged mood on culture wars, says Starmer
The local election results show Labour moved on from Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, while the Conservatives have badly misjudged the mood of voters by focusing on culture war issues, according to party Leader Keir Starmer. He has accused the Tories of ignoring voters’ real concerns. The Liberal Democrats have pledged to table an immediate no-confidence motion against Sunak when the Commons resumes. Although this is unlikely to be voted on, it will add to the wider sense of an open season against the Government.
Source: The Guardian
Keir Starmer refuses to rule out Lib Dem coalition after next election
Keir Starmer has repeatedly refused to rule out a deal with the Liberal Democrats if Labour fails to win a majority at the next general election during an interview after last week’s local elections. He said he is focused on securing a Labour majority government with a ‘workable majority.’ During last week’s elections Labour gained more than 600 seats. Starmer insisted he is ‘going for an outright majority’ and he is confident about it, however, he has also explicitly ruled out a pact with SNP stating, ‘there are no terms in which we will do a deal with the SNP’.
Source: The Guardian
Conservatives lose more than 1,000 council seats in punishing local elections
Cabinet ministers may be fearing the worst after the Conservatives lost control of councils in their constituencies. Party Chairman Greg Hands has described it as a ‘massive wake-up call’ as many of the loses happened in places where they have enjoyed strong support in the past. Energy Secretary Grant Shapps might be one who is feeling nervous after his local council in Welwyn Hatfield, Hertfordshire, fell from Conservative control to no overall majority. Here, Labour were able to gain two councillors, with the Lib Dems picking up one, while the Conservatives lost three seats on the council.
Source: Sky News
MPs clash over Conservative and Labour performance in West Midlands
Two MPs have clashed over last Thursday’s result in the area which saw the Conservatives lose control of 10 councils. Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley Jess Phillips and Conservative MP for Stoke South Jack Brereton had conflicting views over the results, with Phillips saying they show that ‘the people of our country do not want to vote Tory’, while Brereton described them as Labour ‘underperforming’ in the region. Labour won control of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, while the Conservatives lost East Staffordshire Borough Council to Labour, and Stratford-on-Avon to the Liberal Democrats. Phillips said to Brereton that he should be ‘embarrassed’ about how badly he performed, while Brereton argued that Phillips will have to perform better to get a majority in a general election.
Conservatives lose control of Rochford Council for the first time in 21 years
Simon Wootton, who became leader of Rochford Council in 2020, expressed his disappointment, saying ‘We lost four seats, and with that, four very hard-working councillors. Behind every one of those seats is a real person who has worked very hard for the district, and it is a loss to us all.’ Despite Rochford being under Conservative control for 35 of its 49 years, the party have been gradually losing seats, going from 27 councillors before last year’s local elections to just under half that today. Following last week’s results, the Conservatives now have 14 councillors, the Independents have 9, the Lib Dems have 8, 7 from the Rochford Residents, and 1 from the Greens.
Source: Southend Echo
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