Two weeks until polling day
This week's highlights
With polling day just two weeks away, the Labour Party’s position as the front runner doesn’t seem to be as comfortable as it was a few weeks ago.
New opinion polls show Labour’s lead over the Conservatives has continued to slip. A Redfield & Wilton Strategies survey revealed Labour’s lead over the Tories has been cut to 12 points, and a Deltapoll survey put Labour’s lead at 14 points, meaning a seven-point drop in the last two weeks. This is the narrowest lead for Starmer’s party since Sunak became Prime Minister in October.
Campaigning continued this week, with Starmer and Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting paying a visit to the University of York’s Department of Health Sciences. Labour has blamed the Tories for running down the NHS and leaving it in its ‘biggest ever crisis’.
Meanwhile, Conservative Chairman Greg Hands has expressed worry over how much trouble he believes his party is in, as he told Sky News he expects the Conservatives to lose more than 1,000 seats. This has been compounded by the Royal College of Nursing rejecting the Government’s pay deal this past week, with the on-going strikes dragging down the party’s poll ratings.
Concerns around voter ID continue, with former Cabinet Minister David Davis calling for a delay to the introduction of the new rules as he warns that hundreds of thousands of people could be denied their right to vote.
This week we are looking at the key contests to watch out for in the North East and the North West. We discover the councils and places in these regions where things could significantly change and where the current balance of power is marginal.
There are only 10 seats up for election in the North East, and they split neatly into two groups: five Tyneside Labour councils, all of which are pretty unlikely to change hands, and five NOC councils around the Teesside and Hartlepool area, which are definitely worth watching.
Middlesbrough Council is without a doubt one of the most interesting councils to watch if you want to know how Labour is doing. First, because Labour has been highly critical of Independent mayor Andy Preston’s running of the council, with Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald calling for the mayor to stand down over the council’s financial issues. This year the Mayor will be up for election, and Labour will be hoping to close the major gap that opened up in 2019 after a relatively close contest in 2015. Secondly, Labour only need a few more seats to win back Middlesbrough council (currently NOC) which they lost in 2019 after controlling it since the 1970s.
Hartlepool Borough Council is another significant NOC council, although this time because it is a key battleground between Labour and the Conservative party. Only a third of the seats are up for election, but either side could conceivably take control. The Conservatives will be hoping for a repeat of the 2021 parliamentary by-election result, where they took control of the constituency after Labour had won it in 2019. Last year both the Conservatives and Labour managed to gain from independents at the council elections, so it is really all to play for this year.
In Darlington Borough Council the big question is whether the Conservatives can repeat their performance from 2019 and keep control of the council. Labour lost control of the council after 40 years, and even though the Conservatives majority is small – and has been reduced over the years since 2019, any repeat of victory here will be a symbolic victory for the party over Labour, whereas a Labour victory – also a distinct possibility – will reverse the power shift.
In Redcar and Cleveland the Liberal Democrats and Labour are neck and neck in terms of seats, but the real question is whether the Liberal Democrats can retain enough seats that, together with the many independents on the council, they can keep control.
Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council is the final NOC Teesside council where power could shift dramatically. The Labour party lost single-party control of the council in 2019, and would only need to pick up another handful of seats this time to regain their majority. Considering they lost 8 in 2019, this is not outside of the realms of possibility.
In the North West there are 31 different councils up for election this year, with a good split between district and metropolitan councils, and a few unitary councils. The North West has a few close contests this year, in particular it is worth watching the NOC councils, which you can see in the diagram above tend to be the closest contests. The one exception to this rule is Pendle, where the Conservatives will be facing a close contest to retain their small majority. On the other hand, Manchester City Council in the North West is the least competitive council in the country by our measure (the Labour party has 91 out of 96 seats).
South Ribble Borough Council is a very close contest between Labour and the Conservatives, with neither party commanding a majority at the time of writing. Over the last 20 years the council has been Labour, then NOC, then Conservative, finally back to NOC. Both of the major parties will be hoping to take it back this year.
On a smaller scale, Hyndburn Borough Council will be electing a third of their councillors this year, but again this would allow for either the Conservatives or Labour to pick up the majority. In 2022 the Conservatives picked up a couple of seats from Labour, and if they gain another three this year they will take control of the council.
In Pendle Borough Council the Conservatives are currently governing with the smallest possible majority. If they lose just a single seat they will lose their majority. In the last elections in 2022 both the Conservatives and Labour traded seats, so it remains to be seen whether this delicate balance of power can survive another set of elections.
Cheshire West and Chester Council is a 70-seat council where Labour currently has the largest number of seats (33) but still not enough for an outright majority. Boundary changes in 2019 saw Labour lose the majority it had held since 2015, so going into these elections it is worth watching to see if they retake the council.
There are two very small Labour majorities in Rossendale and Bury, and even though both of these councils are only electing a third of their seats, if Labour has a bad night, they could potentially lose their majority in either council. However, there’s not really an obvious successor in either, so Labour would have to lose lots of seats before they would not be in the prime position to lead these councils either as a minority or in coalitions after the election.
Finally, in the North West, as the maps above show, there are a large number of NOC councils that could potentially change hands that are definitely worth watching, especially the Labour minorities in West Lancashire Borough Council, Blackpool Council and Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council. In each of these a handful of seats changing to Labour could give them a full majority. The Liberal Democrats are in a similar position in Stockport, and the Conservatives in Bolton, where both parties gained seats in 2022.
Watch Lancaster to see whether the Greens can hold on to their coalition with independents, or if Labour as the largest party, and their most significant challenger, will take over. Or Cheshire East, to see if Labour can hold on to their coalition there, or if the current largest party, the Conservatives, will take control after the election.
For further analysis have a look at LGIU’s Ones to watch guide to the 2023 local elections.
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A summary of this week’s elections news
Poll reveals voters negative about Labour and Tory attack ads
A recent poll carried out for The Observer found that Labour’s recent attack ad against Rishi Sunak has caused voters to think less favourably of both main parties. Whilst Labour still maintains a healthy lead over the Tories, the Opinium poll found that Labour’s new advert made 17% feel less favourable towards the Conservatives, and 12% also feel less favourable towards Labour. The Opposition recently launched an aggressive new online campaign, which has sparked controversy due to its aggressive approach, accusing the Prime Minister of not wanting to put paedophiles in prison and turning the spotlight on his wife. The new approach has also opened up divisions within the party, as senior shadow cabinet figures such as Yvette Cooper have sought to distance themselves from the affair. With more junior doctor and nurse’s strikes looming, Labour is expected to focus on the NHS this week.
Tory HQ sacks cleaners to boost elections war chest
The Conservatives have apparently sacked members of their security and cleaning staff at party HQ in an attempt to bolster their ‘war chest’ in the run up to the local elections. A Tory source told The Times that about £30m may be needed to fund the local election campaign, and another source said ‘I’ve not seen Labour’s new offices but as I understand it they’re massive and exciting and the switch from that to whatever it is we’re doing now, it’s a dreadful signal, and I’ve heard businesses love Rachel Reeves. I mean, ultimately, if it came to it, Rishi could just put his hand in his pocket’. Recently the party raised its membership fees (for the first time in 16 years) and increased the charge for journalists to attend party conference.
Source: The Times
Voter ID checks could overwhelm election staff
With the introduction of compulsory voter ID for the local elections, many are claiming the changes will ‘damage democracy by making it harder for some to vote.’ Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the ID checks will ‘ensure elections are high-integrity processes’ and the Electoral Commission claims there has been ‘extensive planning’ to ensure councils are ready. The new rules mean that voters need to present photo ID in order to vote, however, over 1 million eligible voters currently don’t hold acceptable forms of photo proof, and only 60,368 people have applied for the Voter Authority Certificate.
Labour wins control of Alton Town Council before a vote is cast
Residents in Alton have been denied their democratic right to vote in six of the council’s seven wards due to a lack of candidates. Labour candidates have already been elected uncontested in four seats before a single vote has been cast, with Independents taking three, and the Heritage Party – Keep Our Countryside Green – taking one. This means Labour is guaranteed to win at least five of the council’s 13 seats. This would be the first time Labour has ever controlled the council. The Lib Dems, who took control of the council in the 2019 election chose not to stand any candidates.
Tories fear blue wall will crumble at local elections over NHS crisis
The Prime Minister recently headed to the South East in an attempt to strengthen Tory heartland seats where traditional supporters have been put off by former Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Lizz Truss. The prolonged NHS crisis and further strikes risk derailing Rishi Sunak’s plans as these remain the most salient issues amongst soft Tory voters, according to research by opposition parties. Political Secretary to Rishi Sunak James Forsyth said the ‘prolonged NHS crisis’ is likely to be a greater problem for the party than the high energy bills or cost-of-living.’
Tory Chairman Greg Hands braces to lose more than 1,000 seats in local elections
Appearing on Sky News, Cabinet Chairman Greg Hands said ‘The independent expectations are that the Conservatives will lose more than 1,000 seats and that Labour need to make big gains.’ Hands referred several times to a forecast by experts Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher of Tory seat losses of around 1,000, with Labour set to make around 700 gains. However, he stressed that Conservative candidates are ‘fighting really hard’ despite dire national poll ratings. He said the numerous strikes and the NHS backlogs have not helped, with the
Polling experts warn tactical voting could see ‘terrible’ results for the Conservatives
Political scientist Professor Sir John Curtice has said that anti-Conservative tactical voting could result in big local election losses for the Tories and lead the Labour Party to a majority at the next general election. Curtice said that the tactical voting evident in last year’s local elections and recent by-elections was a ‘worrying sign’ for Rishi Sunak’s party. He told the Independent: ‘It’s resonant with what happened at local elections between 1992 and 1997 when the Tories were so disliked and in deep trouble,” he said. “Tactical voting happens when people dislike the government so much they will take whatever stick is available to beat it with.’
Who pays for local government
Local government accounts for almost a quarter of all public expenditure in England.
Local government in England is funded through:
- grants from central government (about 52%) made up mainly of redistributed business rates, including the Revenue Support Grant and the Public Health grant;
- and locally raised funding (about 48%) which includes council tax (charged to local people), retained local business rates income, and other sources such as car parks, parking permits, rents and the hire of sports facilities.
Local authority spending can be divided into revenue expenditure and capital expenditure. On the whole, revenue expenditure is financed through a balance of central government grant, retained non-domestic (business) rates and the locally raised council tax. Capital expenditure is principally financed through central government grants, borrowing and capital receipts. (See Local Government Finance Statistics 2022.)
The devolved nations have their own financial settlements and structures – find out more here.
Make sure you check out...
Essential guide to Local Election Communications 2023
This guide focuses on some easy steps to make election communications better so that local people know where to vote, who they can vote for and how much their vote mattered in the final outcome. Read this guide.
LGIU training: communications
We offer a curriculum of three courses which will train you up in the essentials of good communications – all from a local government perspective. Find out more.
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.
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