4 weeks until polling day…
This week's highlights
Following a bumper crop of elections last year, this May will see a number of local elections across the UK, as well as the Northern Ireland Assembly following the resignation of the First Minister earlier this year. Here, parties are split on the issue of the Northern Ireland protocol, threatening the ability to form an executive post-election.
There will be local elections in all wards in all Welsh county and county borough councils, and town and community councils on 5th May 2022. For the first time in Wales, early voting will take place before the polling date in 4 authorities; Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Caerphilly and Torfaen. There are 22 councils totalling 1,234 seats in 762 wards and the election will decide who runs each local authority, and who makes key decisions on things such as transport and waste.
As Wales returns to the polls, there are several challenges that will play a key role in shaping the respective election campaigns. These include the fleeing refugees from Ukraine who will require support from local councils, as well as the rising costs in energy and food bills facing the Welsh public.
In England there are around 4,360 seats up for grabs on 146 councils in major cities including Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and all 32 London boroughs, as well as a handful of Mayoral elections. In London, every seat in every borough will be contested, making the capital a key battleground. Outside of London, local elections are mostly in towns and cities, though there are elections for newly formed councils in Somerset, North Yorkshire, Cumberland and Westmorland & Furness. South Yorkshire will also be voting for a regional mayor and 1,000 parish councils will be electing about 10,000 councillors.
The votes will be the first electoral test for party leaders since the war in Ukraine, increases in the cost of living and Downing Street’s row over parties during lockdown, making the results likely to paint the clearest picture of the national mood since 2018.
The local elections in Scotland will cover all council areas in Scotland and initial polling suggests that the governing Scottish National Party are heading for a substantial majority in this year’s results. They start out with a 44% of the vote according to Survation, a 19% lead over the Scottish Labour Party, up from 32% in the 2017 local elections. Meanwhile the Scottish Conservatives, who have fallen to 18% in the Survation polling, have launched blistering attacks on the SNP with Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, urging the Scottish people to ‘knock the nats down to size’ and the SNP are ‘beatable’.
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Last time these seats were up for election, in 2018, the collapse of the UKIP vote boosted Conservative fortunes. Absent that factor, it’s possible that the Conservatives may struggle this year – not to mention reputational issues at a national level. In areas such as London, maintaining seats and vote share would be an excellent result.
There is often a temptation to use local elections to gauge which party – Labour or the Conservatives – is in the ascendance. Local issues, local parties, councils electing by thirds and the nature of the councils up for election each year muddy the messages that local elections send.
Nonetheless, the 2021 council elections in England were a difficult night for Labour: down eight councils and 327 councillors. Some finely balanced councils were lost to the Conservatives, while the Greens gained seats from Labour. However, Labour did well with the mayoral seats, successfully defending the London and single authority mayoral elections, taking the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayoralty from the Conservative incumbent and winning the first mayoral election for West Yorkshire.
A number of Liberal Democrat held councils are up for election this year, including the directly elected mayoralty in Watford. The party will be hoping to expand their number of local councillors and strengthen key majorities.
Organisational reforms proposed in the wake of the Thornhill Review – a review of the party’s 2019 general election performance – will not yet have had time to percolate throughout the party structure. Changes to candidate selection processes have also been planned. Nonetheless, since last May, the Lib Dems have performed well in by-elections – their wins in Conservative held seats are perhaps a good omen for their key battlegrounds in the 2022 elections.
The Greens have secured some stunning by-election victories in their target councils, with their total councillor numbers in England approaching 500. In fact, they have made more by-election gains than any other political party since the May 2021 elections. Although by-elections tend to favour parties with the ability to campaign on hyper-local issues, voter sentiment is increasingly Green.
Ones to watch in London
The 2018 local elections were a good night for Labour, who won 44% of the popular vote.
Watch out for Barnet. Shortly before the 2018 local elections, the Conservatives lost their majority of one – but a great result in the May elections delivered them a 13 seat majority. The council has new ward boundaries this year – and the leader of the council has said his group is “disappointed” by some of the changes.
2018 was also a good year for the Greens in London, who won triple the number of seats they did in 2014. Richmond and Lambeth have the largest groups of sitting Green councillors.
2018 saw a changing of the guard in Kingston as the Lib Dems gained 21 seats to take control of the council from the Conservatives – and Labour went from two councillors to zero.
Local politics in Tower Hamlets has been somewhat tumultuous in recent years. 2018 saw Labour re-take every seat it had lost in 2014 to the since-discredited Tower Hamlets First party.
The Conservatives successfully defended their key battlegrounds of Wandsworth and Westminster in 2018, despite losing 7 and 3 seats to Labour respectively.
And finally… Tower Hamlets was the first council to declare a result in the 2018 local elections.
For further analysis check out LGIU’s One to Watch guide to the 2022 local elections.
All 32 local authorities in Scotland are holding elections. Scottish local elections use the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system to elect multi-member wards. Elections were last held in 2017.
The three island authorities – and three authorities which include large islands – have had their boundaries reviewed as a result of the 2018 Islands Act, resulting in new boundaries for Orkney, Shetland, Na h-Eileanan Siar and North Ayrshire.
The 2021 Holyrood elections SNP won their fourth successive term and entered into a coalition with the Scottish Greens. It will be interesting to see how local, national and international problems play in the minds of the electorate at the 2022 local elections. As well as the local and community issues affecting voters in each council area. Turnout of voters is also likely to have an impact and different council areas have in the past had very different levels of voter turnout.
Many experienced and senior councillors, including leaders and spokespeople are stepping down, with some reports placing turnover at half of all sitting councillors. In Edinburgh for example, 6 out of 11 Labour councillors and 7 out of 17 Conservatives are standing down. Selection contests appear to have been a challenge for some parties, with some of Labour and SNP’s selections going to the wire.
The 2017 local elections left Scotland with no party in majority control. Some councils have minority administrations; others operate power sharing agreements and coalitions. For many councillors, who are often working in cooperation with councillors from other parties, this has changed the way local politics looks and works. For others, the experience has been less positive and it can disrupt the relationship between the central party and its local branches.
The SNP will be hoping to defend all positions and especially those in authorities they have a lead role in, including Glasgow, Dundee and East Ayrshire which they currently run as a minority administration. Minor gains in areas like West Dunbartonshire, South Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire could see them gain overall control.
At the last local elections in 2017, Scottish Conservatives gained 164 councillors and replaced Labour as the second-largest party in terms of council seats, it will be interesting to observe how Westminster politics affects voting in Scotland. Nearly three quarters of Conservative candidates who stood for seats were elected. High turnout and voters energised by a campaign that focused on the constitution were undoubtedly a factor. The Conservative party could struggle to defend some of these gains. They had been distancing themselves from their Westminster brethren, but their leader, Douglas Ross has since rescinded his letter asking the Prime Minister to resign and Boris Johnson attended the party’s Spring conference. Attack lines at local elections include a commitment from Ross that no Conservative-run council will introduce a workplace parking levy, introduced by the SNP at Holyrood in cooperation with the Greens.
In 2017 elections, Scottish Labour lost control of four councils where they had previously had a majority administration. Although Labour currently share power with the SNP in six councils including Edinburgh. Liberal Democrats run one council (plus arrangements in Aberdeen – more on that later) Labour leader Anas Sarwar has ruled out any coalitions with SNP or Conservatives after the May 2022 elections. Candidates for Labour are expected to be pro-UK.
At the last local elections, 168 independent councillors were elected across Scotland. The largest concentrations are in Shetland, Orkney, Na h-Eileanan Siar, Highland and Angus, all of which also currently have independent council leaders. At the time of publication three out of five independent leaders have declared they are stepping down. Angus Council leader has had a change of heart and recently confirmed he will stand again. In Orkney the Green party are fielding candidates in a traditionally independent area. These five councils are definitely ones to watch. Voters who depend on ferry services as well as air services will be watching carefully how political parties deal with transport and digital connectivity as well as taking steps to address fuel poverty.
The Greens will be hoping to increase their councillor numbers in Edinburgh and Glasgow – with an eye to possible coalition or partnership agreement arrangements after the elections. They will also be hoping to elect their first councillors to councils including West Lothian, East Lothian and Scottish Borders (where they narrowly missed out on electing an MSP last year). Orkney’s first Green councillor, elected in 2017, is not standing for re-election this year, although the party is fielding five candidates.
Alba Party failed to gain any seats in the 2021 Holyrood elections, but do have 16 sitting councillors as a result of defections and independent councillors joining the party. Even in Aberdeen, where leader Alex Salmond stood on the regional list, the party received only 2.1% of the list vote: they could struggle to defend their seats this May.
This is the second round of local elections that 16- and 17-year-olds and qualifying foreign nationals can vote in.
For further analysis check out LGIU’s One to Watch guide to the 2022 local elections.
All 22 Welsh local authorities are holding elections under new boundaries. For the first time, all legal residents of Wales over the age of 16 will be able to vote. All councils will be using First Past the Post to elect councillors, although councils now have the right to switch to Single Transferable Vote for future elections.
Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Caerphilly and Torfaen will be offering ‘flexible voting’, with many voters able to cast their vote at a central polling station ahead of election day.
All 22 Welsh councils are up for election this year, alongside town and community councils. The First Minister’s careful cooperation with councils during the pandemic means that the narrative around the status of councils differs from that in Scotland – although devolving further powers to councils is still not top of the agenda.
This will be the first local elections that 16- and 17-year-olds and qualifying foreign nationals can vote in. The 2017 local elections were disappointing for Labour, who lost over 100 councillors and control of three councils.
The Conservatives and Plaid Cymru, by contrast, made good gains. However, many commentators agreed that the Senedd elections in Wales last year were a success story for Labour, as Welsh Labour gained a seat and improved their constituency and list vote share. The Conservatives gained five seats and Plaid Cymru one – but Plaid Cymru’s vote share fell. The collapse of the UKIP vote meant all three parties picked up seats.
Boundary changes mean almost every council – with the exception of Pembrokeshire and Rhondda Cynon Taf – has seen changes to the number of councillors it elects. The Vale of Glamorgan has gained the most – seven – while Blaneau Gwent has lost the most – nine.
Bar any unexpected electoral earthquakes, expect Labour to have a decent night – possibly even gaining back some of the seats and councils it lost in 2017.
For further analysis check out LGIU’s One to Watch guide to the 2022 local elections.
Northern Ireland Assembly elections are due to go ahead on the 5 of May following the resignation of the Democratic Unionist First Minister, Paul Givan, on the 3 of February this year. Members of the Northern Ireland assembly (MLAs) are elected using the proportional single transferable vote system. MLAs must then designate themselves as either ‘unionists’, ‘nationalist’ or ‘other’. Given Northern Ireland’s power sharing institution, if either the first or the deputy first minister resigns, the other ceases to hold office, with Sinn Fein to call to bring the date forward.
The first minister’s resignation was in protest of issues with the Northern Ireland protocol, although the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) also listed other frustrations with the Alliance Party, Sinn Féin and SDLP following the news. The protocol issues remain dominant in the lead up to the elections as Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP party leader, warned it would be difficult for his party to re-enter the political institutions if the issues around the protocol are not resolved and expressed hope this would be addressed before the election. Sinn Féin have, in turn, stated they would not be renegotiating the Good Friday agreement and has accused the DUP of ‘doing democracy only on unionism’s terms’ and attempting to vote down progressive legislation.
The DUP launched their election campaign on Monday this week with a 5-point plan focussed on the Irish Sea Border, the NHS, schools, and families. They received a mixed reaction from the public, with social media users criticising the focus on other parties. Also launching on Monday, Sinn Féin’s campaign prioritised health and families, alongside pledging to create better jobs, whilst the Alliance Party also talked health with a particular focus on mental health services. For Sinn Féin there was no mention of the protocol issues, whilst Alliance indicated at a conference this year they are committed to support measures that reduce the impact of border checks. Recent polling from the Institute of Irish Studies and the University of Liverpool suggests Sinn Féin’s popularity has risen to 27%, extending its lead over the DUP to almost seven points. Given the DUP has held the majority in the assembly since 2003, a Sinn Féin majority would be a considerable change to NI politics in recent years. However, the opposing stances on the protocol could prevent a functioning executive from forming post-election.
Green Party launches local election campaign
Green Party co-leaders Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay have launched the party’s local election campaign, focusing on the cost of living crisis. Ms Denyer said the party was attracting voters who want “fairer, greener communities”, and said that in “the middle of this cost of living crisis, we know what needs to be done and yet the Government is falling so chronically short”. The pair highlighted work by local authorities, including Green-led Lewes DC and Stroud DC, to retrofit council homes, and set out plans to step up home insulation programmes and provide immediate financial help for those struggling with bills, including a £40-a-week boost to Universal Credit and the expansion of the winter fuel payment.
BBC News | The Independent
Liberal Democrats call for emergency VAT cut
The Liberal Democrats have called for the top rate of VAT to be cut from 20% to 17.5% for one year, saving families an average of £600. The party’s call comes alongside analysis that rising inflation will hand the Treasury a £38.6bn VAT windfall over the next four years. Party leader Sir Ed Davey, ahead of the launch of the party’s local election campaign later today, said families “are facing soaring energy bills and desperately need a tax cut to help them make ends meet.” “These elections”, he said, “are an opportunity to send a message to this Conservative Government that they can’t afford to take people for granted any longer.”
The Independent | The Daily Telegraph
Liberal Democrats launch local election campaign
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has launched the party’s local election campaign, calling for an emergency cut to VAT to tackle the “cost of living emergency” hitting households. Some of the other policies taking centre stage in the campaign are a 16% tax on water companies’ annual profits to tackle sewage discharges into waterways, and the creation of a national community ambulance fund to allow trusts to reopen ambulance stations and cancel closures. Attacking the Government’s tax policies, Sir Ed said they were putting “the burden on working people, particularly low-paid people”. “Now, more than ever”, he said, “they deserve a fair deal, but the rising cost of energy, soaring energy bills, are overwhelming millions of families and pensioners.”
Number of postal voters in Scotland increases by 38%
The BBC has reported that the number of postal voters in Scotland rose by 38% in the year up to December 2021, according to latest figures. A total of 954,500 voters (22.5% of the total electorate) had registered to vote by post in Scottish Parliament and local government elections, an increase of 264,100 compared with last year.
They also reported that the number of people registered to vote in Scottish Parliament and local government elections had risen by 36,300 to 4,245,200.
SNP on track for 'astonishing' record local election result, new poll suggests
The poll, undertaken by Survation for the independent election analyst Ballot Box Scotland, interviewed 1,002 Scots aged 16 and over between 24 and 28 March.
It suggests the SNP are on track for securing 44 per cent of all first preference votes in the council elections on May 5, with Scottish Labour in second place on 23 per cent and the Scottish Conservatives in third on 18 per cent.
Eighteen councillors already elected in Scotland's local elections
Eighteen councillors have already won their seats in the Scottish Local Elections for the next term, despite the election not happening for another month. Nominations for the local authority vote on May 5 closed yesterday, with a record number of wards uncontested. The nominations saw the Scottish Labour obtain their first Councillor in the Shetland Islands since 1994, with Tom Morton being elected unopposed to represent Shetland North.
Andrew RT Davies promises stronger communities as Welsh Conservatives launch campaign
The Welsh Conservatives have promised to build “stronger, safer communities” in their campaign launch for the local election. This includes a number of pledges such as building the M4 relief road with help from the UK Government, freezing council tax for the next two years at least, building new hospitals and providing more funding for the NHS each year with over 4,000 more nurses and doctors. Also, party leader Andrew RT Davies has announced that the Tories will be fielding their highest number of candidates on poll day, continuing their 2017 expansion. 2017 saw them have the largest group in places such as Powys, Wrexham and Conway. Andrew RT Davies said “I’m delighted that more people than ever before will be able to vote for local champions that will deliver stronger, safer communities.”
Sir Keir Starmer launches Labour's local elections push
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has launched Labour’s local election campaign (in Bury) with a focus on helping households hit by the recent soaring cost of living, after claiming that under the Conservative Government families would be £2,620 a year worse off.
The Office for Budget Responsibility predicted household incomes will drop by 2.2%. Last week Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered his spring statement in which he set out measures aimed at easing these rising prices, including a cut to fuel duty. However, Sir Keir said the government “takes far more than it gives to working people”, pointing to a coming rise in National Insurance tax. He said, “Labour would tackle the Tory cost-of-living crisis by cutting your bills by up to £600 funded by a windfall levy on the excess profits of the oil and gas companies”. Labour will launch its local elections battle with the slogan “On your side”, urging voters to send the Conservatives a message about the pain of the cost-of-living crisis and No 10 lockdown breaches.
Mark Drakeford blames conservatives for cost of living crisis as Labour launch campaign
Speaking at Bridgend College’s Steam Academy, the Labour leader said people were now living under a “Tory cost of living” crisis claiming a decade of their leadership has undermined the ability of working class families to handle the strains placed upon them. He has promised the introduction of free school meals for all primary school pupils as part of Labour’s campaign to put money in the pockets of people who are in desperate need of it. This comes off the back of the spring statement announced just over a week ago in which will result in “half a million children across the United Kingdom living in poverty over the next two years,” claiming only a Labour council can make up for this. Labour will be hoping to make up ground lost in 2017 after losing more than 100 councilors despite remaining in control of seven authorities.
Scottish Conservatives pledge to protect same-sex spaces
Scottish Conservative MSP Meghan Gallacher, the party’s gender reform spokesperson, has said the party’s local election manifesto will include a commitment to protect same-sex spaces for women in facilities such as schools, swimming pools and parks. Ms Gallacher said: “Many women feel that their place in society and their safety is under threat. Those views should be heard and respected, not dismissed, as they have been on too many occasions.” Women in facilities like rape crisis centres and domestic violence shelters, she said, must “feel they are safe from the harm of abusers”, adding: “That potential danger does not come from trans women but from predatory men who may go to great lengths to hurt women.”
BBC News | The Press and Journal
What do councillors do?
Councillors are responsible for:
Executive decision making – councillors attend full meetings of the council, and some hold executive posts
Scrutiny of decisions – councillors may serve on scrutiny panels, responsible for the scrutiny of existing policies and service delivery
Representing their ward – councillors represent and meet with residents and groups within their ward, and address the issues that they raise
Councillors can sometimes be involved in other areas, such as the development of new policies for the council. They may also sit on the boards of other organisations whose remit is related to that of the council.
What other roles are there in a council?
Administration – a group of councillors within a council who are able to command majority support and thus control the running of the council.
Council Leader – leads the council and is normally elected by the party or coalition that forms the administration of the council.
Chief Executive – The council’s Chief Executive is normally the head of its paid staff, employed by and responsible to the council.
Convenor – chairs council meetings and represents the council on civic and ceremonial occasions. In the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee, the Convenor is known as the Lord Provost.
Officers – staff of the council who work to to carry out its various functions, such as teachers, social workers and planning officers
What do councils do?
Local authorities in Scotland provide a range of public services, such as education, housing and planning, social care, roads and transport, economic development, environmental protection, and waste management.
Councils have different types of powers and duties which are set out in various different pieces of legislation:
Mandatory duties – things that councils are required by law to provide, such as social care, and primary/secondary education
Permissive powers – things that councils do not have to provide, but normally do, such as recreation services and economic development
Regulatory powers – such as trading standards, and alcohol licensing
Local councils are made up of councillors (also called elected members) who are voted for by the public in local elections. They are supported by permanent council staff (called officers).
Councillors are elected to represent people in a defined geographical area for a fixed term of four years, unless elected at a by-election in which case the time will be shorter. Councillors have to balance the needs and interests of residents, voters, political parties and the councils.
Councillors decide on the overall direction of policy. Council officers then implement these policy initiatives and are responsible for delivering services on a daily basis.
- Full Council – The full council is made up of all elected councillors, usually belonging to a range of different political parties. The full council debates and decides upon policy based on reports from the committees.
- Committees – Councillors on committees monitor and review the council’s performance and decision-making process in order to ensure it is accountable to the public. Information is provided to the committees by council officers. In councils without a cabinet (see below), power is exercised by the committees, made up of councillors in proportion to their party’s representation on the full council.
- Cabinet – A cabinet is like the government of the council, usually formed by the political party that has most elected representatives in full council. It is the only group which is allowed to make decisions on certain areas of policy without the approval of the full council. Each cabinet member usually looks over a specific area, e.g. environment, housing, adult social care, children’s services or culture. Between 2000 and 2011, most councils were required to have a ‘Leader and Cabinet’ model rather than a committee system. However, since the Localism Act 2011 allowed them to, some councils have switched back to a committee system.
- Leader or Elected Mayor – The political leader of a council is responsible for the overall performance of the council – as well as its strategic direction and its relationship with central government. The leader is elected by the rest of the council, and in the cabinet system the leader then appoints the cabinet members. The leader often sits on the Local Enterprise Partnership board. Elected mayors perform the same role, but are directly elected by the residents, rather than other councillors. (N.B. Elected mayors are different to unelected or lord mayors, whose jobs are largely ceremonial and don’t hold any powers).
Permanent staff perform many of the duties of the council. Lots of local authorities have a chief executive officer, who oversees the management of the council. Underneath the chief executive, there will usually be a number of directorates or departments, e.g. finance, corporate services, adult social care, children’s services, housing, environment, etc.
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This short safety guide will help you assess risk and adopt strategies and behaviours that will minimise any potential hazards that might be identified as part of a councillor’s role. It has been updated to include information on canvassing and Covid-19. Read our safety guide here.
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