Local elections England: update 4 April 2024

Four weeks to go!

Image: Mr_Twister via istock

Events this month

State of the locals 2024

This online panel discussion, hosted with Ipsos, will bring political and local government experts together to look at what the local elections mean this year and discuss exclusive new LGIU/Ipsos polling that looks at attitudes to local democracy. There is no charge for this event. Book a place.

Global Local Executive Panel: Strategies for tackling misinformation in local government

Local government is not immune to the misinformation phenomenon – particularly at election time – and must find ways to tackle it proactively and reactively. This panel discussion will explore the challenges and focus on practical insights and ideas to counteract disinformation. This is a free event for LGIU members (there is a small charge for others). Book a place.

Highlights this week

With four weeks to go we have published Ones to Watch, our guide to where the action will be on 2 May. We pick out those local contests where things might change, control might be won or lost by a particular party and new political leaders could emerge. It’s not just fun to speculate, it also matters, because in these places local people could well see big changes in the priorities of their council and the services they receive. The excerpt below looks at the landscape of council control heading into the local elections.

Local elections one-stop-shop

Our page of local election resources to support our members and the wider sector, is a one-stop-shop of commentary, guidance and analysis. We will be adding new content throughout the month of April.

Ones to watch - England councils

The overall landscape of council control in England has seen a relatively steady Conservative decline. Back at the time of the May 2019 local elections, the last set we had just preceding a general election, the Conservative party had a disappointing night, losing 44 councils. But then, in December of the same year, they won a majority in the general election. By 2024, as the map and graph below show, Conservative fortunes are in a weaker position than 2019 (when they at least still held 143 councils). As of today, the number is down to 63 councils across England. After the May 2023 elections, Labour overtook the Conservatives as the largest party in local government for the first time in over 20 years.

Map of England showing council control by party


bar chart showing council control by party.

In this situation, you might expect the main question of the night to be whether the Conservative decline will continue. This is partially true, but there are two reasons to be wary of this as the only lens for understanding these elections.

First, there is the political control of the councils up for election – where the Conservatives are defending comparatively few councils. The graphs below show that, as a consequence of the small number of elections, there are only 16 Conservative-controlled councils up for election this year. That’s not enough for us to expect major losses, in the style of May 2023, for the Conservatives on an England-wide scale (the headlines from last year of 1000 Conservative losses are mathematically impossible this year). Labour is defending many more councils this time around. As always, the major expected shifts are within the current NOC councils, where changes are more likely, especially because many of them are currently minority councils where a few seats could make a major difference to political control (including 22 Conservative minority councils). A few of the regions with more elections this year, such as the North West and North East, have large numbers of relatively safe Labour majorities (see the marginality graph below), so as always, the randomness of which councils are up for election this time will have a huge impact on the results.

Map of England showing council control in 2024 election areas

Map of England showing showing how marginal each council is

Bar chart showing council control in election areas

Second, we shouldn’t only think about this as a question about the national successes or failures of the national parties because we should appreciate the localness of these local elections. It is tempting to think of these locals as the final big test of each party before the general election, but these elections also decide important policies on the ground for many millions of people across the country, and the councillors elected in May will be in office after the general election, making decisions and facing challenges regardless of the national result. Will the result in Thurrock, for example, tell us more about the relative strength of the national parties, or more about the political/local government situation in Thurrock? In this case, as in many others, the local nature of these local elections really matters.

With that said, where are the council elections this year, and which ones should you be watching after polls close on 2nd May? Read our regional picks:

East Midlands | East of England | North East | North West | South East | South West | West Midlands | Yorkshire and Humber

In the news

A summary of this week’s election news. All stories are curated from the LGIU’s member-only Daily News.

Image: Thinglass via istock

Labour launches local elections campaign

28/03/24 Sir Keir Starmer will today launch Labour’s local election campaign, with a focus on the Government’s efforts at delivering its levelling up strategy. The party leader will join his deputy, Angela Rayner, and Richard Parker, Labour’s candidate for West Midlands Mayor, to argue that the Tories had given voters false hope over reducing regional inequalities. Writing in the Times, Sir Keir and Ms Rayner offer praise for Boris Johnson’s vision of levelling up Britain, but argue that the policy was “killed at birth” under Rishi Sunak’s time as Chancellor. At today’s launch, there will be a pledge to further devolve powers to local authorities, as: “Democratic decisions are better made by local people with skin in the game. And devolution is absolutely essential for taking on regional inequality and unlocking that pride”. The Guardian says the choice of a West Midlands launch could be seen as an indication that Labour is confident of removing the region’s current Tory Mayor Andy Street.
The Daily Telegraph   The Times   The Times   Daily Mail   Manchester Evening News   Mirror.co.uk   The Guardian

Analysts predict Tories will lose up to 500 seats in May

28/03/24 Expert analysis suggests that the Conservatives are poised to lose up to 500 seats in the upcoming local elections. Analysts Michael Thrasher and Colin Rallings warn that if the Tories repeat their performance from last year’s local polls they could lose half of the seats they are defending. In the 2023 elections, the party lost over 1,000 councillors and control of 40 councils. With more than 2,600 seats in 107 local authorities and 11 mayoral races up for election on May 2, both Labour and the Conservatives defend approximately 1,000 seats each, with the Liberal Democrats defending about 400 and the Greens just over 100. The analysts suggest Labour may gain about 300 seats, and the Liberal Democrats and Greens are also likely to advance. The extent of the threat posed by Reform UK to the Tories is uncertain until the nominations reveal how many councillors the party is standing.

Councillors to contest first mayoral election

30/03/24 The BBC looks ahead to May, which will see the first mayor of the York and North Yorkshire Combined Authority elected, following agreement between City of York Council and North Yorkshire Council. The devolution deal creating the combined authority will see the authority take charge of more than £750m of funding from central Government over 30 years. A number of North Yorkshire Council members are standing – Cllr Keane Duncan for the Conservatives, Cllr Felicity Cunliffe-Lister for the Liberal Democrats, Cllr Kevin Foster for the Green Party, and independent candidate Cllr Paul Haslam – while businessman David Skaith is standing for Labour, and former police detective Keith Tordoff is running as an independent.
BBC News

Bristol candidate loses part of finger to dog bite

31/04/24 Environmental campaigner Danica Priest, who is standing for election to Bristol City Council in the Filwood ward for the Green Party, has lost part of her finger after it was bitten off by a dog while posting a campaign flier through a letter box. Ms Priest said her leafleting “took a dark turn”, adding: “Looks like it’s going to be a long night at the hospital but I’m doing ok.”
Daily Mail   Mirror.co.uk   The Independent UK   The Sun

Labour leaflets spark concerns among activists

Labour Party campaigners have reportedly raised concerns with the national party over local election campaign banners and leaflets which prominently feature the Union flag and its colours, with one MP telling the Guardian that the flag “can be a complex issue for some communities and we have to navigate that more carefully”, and that for “a lot of communities we are talking about colours that are associated with the National Front or another far-right group”. One councillor told the paper that they had seen “boxes of the leaflets being piled up because activists don’t want to give them out”. A spokesperson for the party said Labour “is positive, progressive and patriotic. The Union flag is something we are proud to carry.”
Daily Mail