This guest post from Peter Keeling of Democracy Club is part of our LGIU coverage and support of local elections.
The 6 May English local elections will be extremely complex. Combining both the 2020 and 2021 electoral cycles, many places will see both district and county elections at the same time.
When other elections are considered – Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners, for example, some voters will have up to four ballot papers to fill out. Adding parish councils, local referendums, and by-elections, voters in at least three places in England will be handed five ballot papers (Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire, and East Ham and Isle of Dogs in London). DemocracyClub’s WhoCanIVoteFor.co.uk helps make sense of the elections for the voter. A simple postcode search, and voters are provided with elections, candidates and polling stations for everything above local councils.
The data which powers WhoCanIVoteFor is collected by volunteers, who work together on nomination day to collect Statements of Persons Nominated (‘SoPNs’, as we call them) published on council websites. This year we managed this task in record time, with a full dataset completed by 12 April.
What follows is a summary of this database.
The elections data
Precisely 5,000 English councillors are scheduled to be elected on 6 May. However, five seats were uncontested, and the sad death of a candidate has recently postponed one poll in Kent. In one parish on the Isles of Scilly, no candidates have turned up at all. Of these 5,000 council seats, 4,648 will be elected in scheduled elections (2,662 rolled over from 2020), and 352 will be elected in by-elections postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Of the by-elections, 95 will take place alongside a scheduled election (ie. as a double, or in one case, triple-seat election), while 257 standalone by-elections will also be held, across 251 wards in 132 councils. The figure of 352 is the largest number of council by-elections held on a single day in modern UK political history. By way of comparison, the 2019 English local elections saw 40 by-elections – this year there are that many in London alone.
The candidates and parties
There are a total of 19,108 candidacies across England, representing 157 political parties, as well as 1,186 independents. However, the number of individual candidates involved will be lower than this headline figure. This is because the 2020 and 2021 electoral years have been combined, meaning that some individuals will contest more than one seat (for example, district and county seats in the same area). Based on our initial dataset (before detailed de-duplication), we estimate that at least 1,300 individuals are standing for two seats, and at least two are standing for three. In terms of party politics, three features mark the 2021 elections out from other recent local elections. The first is the rise of the Green party, which is contesting a record number of seats. The second is the collapse of UKIP, many of whose former candidates are now standing for other minor parties or as independents. The third is a surge in minor party candidates, up from 1,015 in 2019 to 1,787 this year. In 2019, no minor party contested more than 50 seats; this year six have done so.
Parties standing more than 50 candidates in the 6 May English local elections (% seats
contested in brackets)
Conservatives: 4,867 candidates (97.34%)
Labour: 4,654 candidates (93.08%)
Liberal Democrats: 3,657 candidates (73.14%)
Reform UK: 285 candidates (5.70%)
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition: 267 (5.34%)
UK Independence Party: 144 candidates (2.88%)
Freedom Alliance: 95 candidates (1.90%)
Social Democratic Party: 70 candidates (1.40%)
The For Britain Movement: 61 candidates (1.22%)
In addition to uncontested seats, there are a small number of wards where fewer than two candidates are standing per available seat. In these contests, parties with enough candidates are guaranteed a seat regardless of the result. This year there are 13 such seats: 11 Labour and two Conservative.
The English local elections will be administratively complex and politically fragmented in ways no other modern election has been. The results will provide a fascinating insight into the state of the nation in the aftermath of an unparalleled year.
Peter Keeling is Voting Information Manager at Democracy Club, a non-partisan Community Interest Company. Read the full local elections briefing on Democracy Club’s blog.