English local government: The landscape after the 2024 local elections

Bookmark

Main points to know

The elections on May 2nd took place against the backdrop of a steady Conservative decline over recent years, the results show the trend has continued. The main story is one of severe Conservative losses, and this is undoubtedly true across councils, PCC elections and mayoralities. The Conservatives lost half of the seats they were defending. There were only two rays of light for Conservatives, the victory of incumbent mayor of Tees Valley Ben Houchen and their defence of Harlow, which had been a key Labour target.

The slightly more complicated story is that the Conservative losses did not necessarily translate straightforwardly to any other major party winning their seats. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Independents and the Greens all did well in these elections, but unlike in years gone by, the Conservative losses did not necessarily mean that Labour swept up councils. As always, the local picture is important for understanding any specific result. For an example of this, look no further than Labour’s loss of councillors in Newcastle and South Tyneside or their loss of council control in Oldham.

As usual, the fortunes of the major parties will dominate the headlines, especially in a general election year. But these results can’t be understood when divorced from their local context. National politicians may pretend otherwise, but it is clear that voters see local elections as fundamentally different to national contests.

To illustrate this, we will take a look across the different regions of England, highlighting where there were interesting changes, and where we might have expected changes that didn’t happen.

The changes in maps and charts

Where does that leave council control across England today?

East Midlands

There was only one council up for election in the East Midlands region, the city of Lincoln, which has stayed Labour.

However, that does not mean that nothing of note happened in the area. In the PCC result for Lincolnshire, the Conservatives held the position, but their vote share fell by a significant 23%.

The Mayor of the East Midlands, a new position set up this year, was won by Labour. The Conservatives had their sights set on it, which we know because they launched their local election campaign here, but their candidate, Ben Bradley, was pushed into second place by Labour candidate Claire Ward.

East of England

The East of England has many more competitions with twenty different elections and a huge variety of different political contexts across the region.

The biggest result in the region was Labour taking control of Thurrock where no party held a majority, but the Conservatives had previously been the biggest party. The last few years have been particularly rocky for Thurrock due to commercial investment deals going south and unpaid loans. This victory for Labour gives them control of the council for the first time since 2014.

Next door to Thurrock, in Basildon, the Conservatives lost control of the council after losing a severe 12 seats to Labour and Independents, which leaves no party with an overall majority.

The biggest defence was in Harlow, where the Conservatives held onto a small majority despite losing five seats. Labour and the Conservatives are now only a single seat apart on the council.

Castle Point was an interesting contest, where the People’s Independent Party took majority control. The Conservatives lost all eight councillors, meaning that every seat on the council is now held by local parties and independents. A key example of where local politics is truly local.

On the Friday after the elections, due to a reporting error at the BBC we were busy writing about how Labour must be happy to have gained Norwich. It turns out that Norwich was still in No Overall Control after Labour lost two seats and the Green party picked up two.

The Liberal Democrats held on to Watford, adding to their defences across the East and South East.

North East

The only change in the North East was the switch of Hartlepool from No Overall Control to Labour. This is a major symbolic victory, as Hartlepool is a key target in the “red wall”, and Labour would have been disappointed with failing to win the council last year.

There are a number of strong Labour majorities in places like Sunderland, Newcastle, and Gateshead, although in Newcastle, Labour’s majority has now been reduced to eight. Labour will be glad of these strong majorities because in some of these areas, they are masking serious losses of seats. In South Tyneside they lost ten seats, gained by Independents and the Greens.

North West

The most dramatic result in the North West was Oldham, where Labour lost control of the council. Labour controlled the council since 2011, and this is yet another example of how national swing – which has undoubtedly favoured Labour (Labour won the Cumbria Police and Crime Commissioner from the Conservatives at a 22% swing) – can miss many of the important local dimensions to political competitions.

On the other hand, Labour won Hyndburn from No Overall Control, one of the key tests for them in the region. They picked up a couple of new seats, while the Conservatives lost three.

Across the rest of the North West, the story was one of continuity. Stockport, which started the night at No Overall Control, ended in the same place. The Liberal Democrats are still only a few seats away from a full majority.

In Bolton, both Labour and the Conservatives have lost councillors, meaning that the council stayed in No Overall Control where Labour would have been hoping for a majority. Exactly the same was true in Pendle, where Independents picked up five seats.

South East

The biggest results in the South East, without question, were Labour’s victories over the Conservatives. In Rushmoor, where they have never won the council before, and Adur. In both of these, they won seats directly from the Conservatives. Labour also won Milton Keynes from No Overall Control – where most Labour gains came from the Conservatives.

The Liberal Democrats held onto key councils in Winchester, Woking and Gosport. They didn’t win Wokingham, but won 27 out of the 54 seats in the all-out election, so they’re only a single seat away. They did take control of Tunbridge Wells in one of their key victories.

Elsewhere, the Conservatives lost 15 seats on Havant council, leaving no party with a majority. This leaves Fareham as the only council up for election in the region that the Conservatives held on to.

South West

The map below tells some of the story of the South West, two Conservative losses, one to the Liberal Democrats in Dorset, and one to No Overall Control in Gloucester (where they lost 15 seats and the Liberal Democrats picked up 7 for a total of 17, making them the largest party).

Elsewhere in the region, Labour cemented their control of Swindon, their key target from last year. Back in 2021, Labour had 5 seats on the council, now they have 41.

What the map misses, is the other contests we were watching which stayed No Overall Control but lots happened with the seats – especially when it comes to the Green party. In Bristol, the Greens won 10 more seats, leaving them with 34. They are still the largest party, now considerably larger than their nearest rival Labour, but did not take control of the council.

In Stroud, the Conservatives lost 13 seats, and the Greens picked up 9 new seats, making them the largest party on the council.

West Midlands

The main question in the West Midlands was whether the Conservatives would be able to hold on to the councils they were defending. Evidently, not in many cases. The first major results in the region came from Redditch and Nuneaton and Bedworth, where Labour won control of the councils from the Conservatives. Nuneaton is a famous general election bellwether. In addition, Labour gained control of Tamworth by taking nine seats from the Conservatives – the council was previously in no overall control since the Conservatives lost their majority last year. The Conservatives also lost control of Dudley, where they are now neck and neck with Labour.

The Conservatives held onto only two councils in the region, Solihull and Walsall, where there were no dramatic changes in the seats.

However, the biggest result in the region was undoubtedly the Mayor of West Midlands result, where the incumbent, Andy Street, lost by a razor-thin margin to Labour’s Richard Parker. We can interpret this in a few ways, but to see it as an overwhelming victory for Labour misses how close this contest was in comparison to elsewhere, where the swing against the Conservatives was much larger, which suggests Andy Street’s personal popularity was a major factor.

Yorkshire and the Humber

There were not a huge number of changes of council control in Yorkshire and the Humber. North East Lincolnshire moved from the Conservatives to No Overall Control, one of the earliest tests of their strength in the region. The Conservatives lost eight seats, whereas Labour picked up six.

Labour lost control of Kirklees, leaving no party with an overall majority. They had only held control of the council since 2022. Labour and the Conservatives both lost seats there, while the Liberal Democrats, Green and above all Independents picked them up.

In Hull, always an interesting Labour and the Liberal Democrats face off, the Liberal Democrats held control of the council (that they won in 2022), but have lost a seat, where Labour has won one.

Again, the mayoral result in the region was significant. Labour’s David Skaith won York and North Yorkshire, which contains the Prime Minister’s parliamentary seat, suggesting that the Conservatives might have expected to do slightly better in the region.

Combined Authority elections

The maps below show how combined authorities are now nearly entirely dominated by Labour mayors. The Tees Valley, won by Ben Houchen, is the only combined authority up for election this time won by the Conservatives, and that was with a major swing against them. Incumbent Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, lost in a close race against Labour’s Richard Parker.

Several interesting results happened below the top line. An Independent, Akhmed Yakoob, backed by George Galloway won 11% of the vote in the West Midlands race. The new North East Combined Authority was won by Labour after a strong performance by former Mayor of the North of Tyne (at one point Labour, now running as an Independent) Jamie Driscoll. These results, although they did not stop Labour from winning these contests, are part of the story of how not all voters are choosing to vote for the two main parties.

The mayoral elections demonstrated in the successes of Ben Houchen and the reduced swing against Andy Street, that voters can and do choose to separate the candidate from the party when it comes to Mayors.

Police and Crime Commissioner elections

The areas for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) are a little different to local authorities. For example, in the southwest, there is a single PCC for Devon and Cornwall, which covers a large number of different district and unitary councils as well as a county council.

Given the nature of these elections, there is a chance that the PCC elections will primarily be viewed as a question of Conservative losses. This is true of all elections this year, but PCCs are a type of elected office where the Conservative party is unusually dominant. The results, pictured below, largely support this interpretation, given that the Conservatives had many to lose, they have lost several PCCs, all to Labour.

In Avon and Somerset, Bedfordshire and Cumbria and others, Labour won from the Conservatives. Even in places where the result did not change, this does not mean nothing of note has happened. In Lincolnshire, for example, Conservatives have held their position with a significantly reduced majority.

In Wales there were no changes, Dyfed–Powys has been held by Plaid Cymru. Wales has elected its first women as PCCs in Gwent and South Wales. In the places where turnout has been announced, it has tended to hover around 15-20%.

Turnout across PCC elections is often low, even by the standards of local elections, and in places where there are PCC elections and no other elections, turnout is often very low indeed. This is as true this year as it was in previous years.

London Assembly

Every seat on the London Assembly was up for election this year. In the constituency elections, Labour did well, picking up nearly all of the seats. The Conservatives won three of the outer borough seats, and the Liberal Democrats, for the first time, won a constituency seat, taking London South West. In the list of seats, the Greens were awarded three seats, and Reform one.

In the mayoral race, despite some claims on Friday that Susan Hall may have outperformed the polling, Sadiq Khan won convincingly for Labour. Overall, this was a good performance for Labour in the capital, where the lead they have held since the mid-2010s has continued.

Bookmark