Ones to Watch 2023

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Ones to Watch 2023

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About 'Ones to Watch'

Ones to Watch is part of LGIU’s one-stop-shop of local elections resources, which include information, support, analysis and commentary. LGIU members will be kept informed of new content via their morning Daily News emails – so make sure you have opted to receive these emails by visiting ‘My updates‘ in your website account. If you haven’t yet registered on the website then sign up here.

Non-members will be updated in their Friday newsletter, And Finally…, so make sure you have selected this option by visiting ‘My updates‘ in your website account.

Join us on 21 April for a FREE policy event on the State of the Locals 2023 – the live action version of Ones to Watch!

And, be sure to get in touch to tell us about what you’re up to and if there is any further support we can provide you in the lead up to polling day.

You can read the full text of Ones to Watch on this page. You can also download a PDF version of Ones to Watch here. The PDF is free to download, but you will need to be signed in to your website account. If you are not registered on the website then sign up here (it’s free and easy to do).

Once again, we are proud to release LGIU’s Ones to Watch guide to the 2023 local elections with what’s at stake and up for grabs as voters go to the polls on 4 May 2023 to elect over 8,000 local representatives across England.

LGIU’s Ones to Watch highlights the key local contests to have on your radar in the lead up to polling day. While it may be tempting to use local elections as a temperature check on national politics, each council area and indeed each seat in each ward is its own race and influenced as much by local issues and personalities as national political parties.

These local elections are the most important elections of all: the ones that make a real difference to our communities, to the places we live and work, to the public services that we all rely on. That is why, for well over a decade, the LGIU has been working with local government to bring you the best support, resources and commentary before, during and after these all important elections.

For 2023, we have been delving into our extensive local government library to showcase some of the most pertinent resources for you and your teams along with the fresh analysis and coverage you’ve come to expect from us across key election themes including: personal safety running elections, local government essentials and transparency and public trust.

Photograph showing a row of different coloured chairs - one red, one orange, one yellow, one green, one blue
Image: Benjamin44 via istock

Where are elections happening?

Two. hundred and thirty councils and four mayors in England and eleven councils in Northern Ireland have elections in May 2023. Although because of the coronation, elections in Northern Ireland will happen two weeks after those elsewhere – the 18th May instead of the 4th.

 

England 

The 230 councils in England include 130 whole council elections and 100 electing a third of their members. Of the 130 electing their whole council, the vast majority (barring changes in council structure or boundaries) would have last been up for election in 2019.

Mayors are up for election in Bedford, Leicester, Mansfield and Middlesbrough. Since the Elections Act (2022) mayoral elections will be held under first past the post, the same as other types of council elections in England.

About two-thirds of the councils up for election are district councils, and the rest are pretty evenly split between metropolitan and unitary councils. There are elections happening across every region of England except London. Those in the South East might be happy to hear that they have 57 elections, the most of any region.

There is currently no central public repository of information on local councils, so all of our data on the current composition of councils is from Open Council Data UK who collect information from individual council websites. This is the best available source for up-to-date information on council seats. For information on the data used here, please email [email protected].

Northern Ireland

All 462 seats in eleven councils in Northern Ireland are up for election this year. The Northern Irish will go to the polls on the slightly later polling date of 18 May to avoid a clash with the coronation of King Charles III. Historically, voters in NI participate more in local government elections than elsewhere in the UK. For example, turnouts regularly exceed 50% while in England turnout for local elections rarely exceeds 40% without a corresponding general election. And while voter ID is new in England, Northern Ireland has required photographic identification to vote since 2002.

All Northern Ireland councils are currently “No Overall Control”. Local elections use a different electoral method – the single transferable vote (STV) to elect councillors which is more likely to achieve a distribution across parties, so don’t expect much change at a council level, where the story is more about shifting voting patterns and party allegiances across time. LGIU is looking in-depth at electoral issues in Northern Ireland, visit our website for more information.

 

Why this year’s locals really matter..

by Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of LGIU

It’s always difficult to argue for the localness of local elections, to remind people that these are material and substantive decisions about local services, not simply a way of measuring who’s up and who’s down in national politics.

That argument is even harder to make – though all the more important – given just how dramatic national politics has been over the last 12 months. After all, we’re on our fourth Prime Minister since the last time these seats were contested and the third since the last set of local elections last year.

But, sadly, turbulent times are not new in our politics. It was also a turbulent time when these council seats were last contested in 2019 towards the end of Theresa May’s premiership and in the midst of parliamentary deadlock over the implementation of Brexit. Back then the Conservatives did very badly in these elections: losing over 1300 seats and 44 councils.

This year’s elections need to be seen in this context. After the chaos of the last year and with Labour substantially ahead in the polls, there’s a general expectation, mirrored in many local administrations that the Conservatives will do badly. But to do badly from this base would be to do very badly indeed. So, conversely, it could go better than many anticipate and this in turn creates a pressure of expectation on opposition parties.

But of course these are local elections. And there’s a lot of local politics at play. Our recent State of Local Government Finance survey revealed just how precarious a position many councils are in – nearly one in ten are worried that they won’t be able to meet their statutory obligations and the majority, as well as raising council tax, are cutting spending and dipping into reserves. There are some very hard choices to be made and those choices will fall upon the councillors elected this May.

We’ve also seen local politics becoming increasingly febrile.

Over the last few months, we have seen heated protests on disparate issues including asylum seekers housed in hotels, low traffic neighbourhoods and drag queens performing in libraries. These have become increasingly bitter and have begun to connect with international networks of misinformation and to draw in non local activist groups.

The line between global and local becomes blurred.

Again, the burden of navigating local democratic institutions through these challenges will fall upon elected councillors.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, these elections contain a massive curve ball in the shape of Voter ID. This is the first time voters across the whole country will be required to provide ID in order to vote. We don’t know how this will work out, but we do know that public awareness of the policy is low and that take up of Voter Authority Certificates amongst people without the necessary forms of ID is even lower. Electoral officers are concerned; about the impact on people’s ability to vote and about the potential disruption to the smooth running of elections.

Councils will manage, as they always do, but there will be important lessons to be learnt.

So, there’s a lot to keep our eyes on and, as so often with local elections, the stakes are higher than many people assume. Whatever these elections do or don’t tell us about national politics will be far from the most important thing about them.

Ones to watch in England: An overview

The last time many of these council seats were up for election, in 2019, the Conservative party was in the middle of a major decline in electoral fortunes under Theresa May. The local elections took place just weeks before the party’s worst national electoral performance ever, when it received under 10% of the vote at the European parliamentary elections on May 23rd.

However, at the local elections on 2nd May, when the eventual largest party at the European parliamentary election – the Brexit party – did not stand, the Conservative party fared significantly better, their electoral weaknesses partially masked by similar weaknesses within the Labour party at the time. Both Labour and the Conservatives got 28% of the national vote. In terms of gains and losses, the picture was stark, the Conservative party lost over 1300 councillors and lost majority political control of 44 councils. Labour lost control of 6 councils and the Liberal Democrats gained control of 10. The big change of the night was the increase in the number of NOC (No Overall Control) councils, where 37 new councils found themselves with no majority party.

Judging the 2023 elections against this backdrop will be difficult. So much has changed since then – we have had a general election, four prime ministers, and Britain has left the European Union. On a national level, the abnormal political landscape of 2019 where the Conservative party had its worst national performance ever in May, and then won a majority in the House of Commons in December, makes comparison quite difficult.

Most importantly, 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.

The 2022 local elections saw a difficult night for the Conservative party, which lost over 300 seats and close to a dozen councils. But no single party definitely benefited from the Conservatives’ weak performance. Because the Conservatives are defending the most councils this year (see the graph below) their potential losses are also highest. This will not be an inviting prospect for a party that, according to public opinion polls, has seen a significant drop in its popularity since last May.

As the graph below, Councils up for election by party control, shows, 36% of the councils up for election are Conservative-majority councils, and a further 35% have no single party forming a majority (learn more about these here). Only 20% are currently Labour-controlled. Even just looking at single-party majority councils, the Conservatives are starting the night with more to lose than the other parties.

 

 

As well as toppling Conservative majorities, other parties could seek to gain from the large proportion of councils where there is currently no majority. As the graph below (NOC councils by control) shows, most of these councils with no overall majority for any one party are held by the Conservative party in minority administrations, again introducing a way in which their overall control of councils could be diminished by a weak performance in these elections. In the analysis below, we have picked out a few of the important councils from each region where a small change in seats could dramatically alter the balance of power in the council.

As the graph below, Councils up for election by region and party control, shows, in terms of the national picture there are a few regions that stand out. The South East and East of England have both the largest number of elections, and the largest number of defending Conservative councils.

 

 

Labour are likely to be aiming to gain seats in these elections, especially given they do not have many councils to defend compared to the Conservatives. They will definitely want to make progress in the North East, including retaking Middlesbrough Council, even if winning the vote for the directly elected Mayor is a more difficult prospect. Overall, these elections represent an opportunity for Labour to improve from a relatively low baseline.

In the 2019 elections, the Liberal Democrats gained 10 councils, a significant success. This was complimented by a strong showing in 2022, where they gained over 200 seats. They are defending 17 councils this year. Look out for Sheffield City, where they will be holding off Labour, the current largest party and their coalition partners, from forming a majority. In Stockport or Teignbridge a few extra seats in either council could see them form majority administrations where they currently govern as minority parties. In Brentwood, denying the Conservatives just one seat could change the council from a Conservative majority to NOC.

There are a few councils where the Greens will have set their sights on improving their standing. In the Green’s most successful area – Brighton and Hove – they already form a minority administration, and may be seeking to turn this into a majority. In one of our ones to watch, Mid Suffolk council, a small change in seats could see the Greens overtake the Conservatives as the largest party.

In terms of party control, the Reform party represents an unknown quantity in these local elections. Although it is unlikely they will take control of any councils, and in the last few sets of local elections they won only a couple of seats, in close contests, especially those where the Conservatives are holding on to a small majority, their successes could become decisive given the difficult opinion polls for the Conservative party.

As always, we are most interested in areas where the control of the council might shift. Although using local elections to predict the fortunes of the major national parties is tempting, we shouldn’t overlook that the decisions made in May will have a major impact on how essential local services – like adult social care, children’s services and housing – are run. A small change in a party’s successes on a national scale could shift the balance at a local level, and have  a great impact on our daily lives.

Throughout our analysis we have paid attention to the “marginality” of a council. In our definition, marginality is the average of the absolute difference between the largest party and the number of seats needed for a majority, and the absolute difference between the number of seats held by the largest party and the second largest party. We designed this so it would show us not only whether there is a majority, but also how big the majority is, and how powerful the largest party is compared to the second largest party.

Essentially, this single score for each council shows us both how secure the largest party’s position is, and how likely the council is to change control. The very dark shape in the North West is Manchester, where the Labour party has 91 out of 96 seats. It is the least marginal of all the councils having elections this year.

 

East Midlands

derbyshire countryside
Photo by Tom Wheatley on Unsplash

 

There are 33 councils in the East Midlands holding elections, and a disproportionate number of these contests are really close. A few seats moving either way could dramatically change the balance of power in any of these councils – definitely a region worth keeping an eye on. However, it’s not an easy region to watch, because lots of the councils have a significant number of independents, so our guide will seek to point out where changes are possible.

To start with a complicated one, North Kesteven District Council is currently run by a Conservative/Independent coalition. The big question is whether the Conservatives can become the majority party without relying on any independents, or if the various independent groupings in North Kesteven can retain their influence on the council.

In a similar situation, elsewhere in Lincolnshire, Boston Borough Council is currently run by the Conservatives, but even the slightest losses here will deprive them of their majority. In 2019 they started with a majority of one seat, today, due to vacancies, that majority has already disappeared, and it remains to be seen if they will regain it at the upcoming elections.

There are close contests, and then there is South Derbyshire District Council where, as of the time of writing, Labour and the Conservatives both have just under the 19 seats they need to form a majority. A lot has changed since the Conservatives won 22 seats at the 2019 election and a series of by-elections and shifts in party allegiance have made this one of the closest competitions between the two major parties you are likely to see.

Bolsover District Council is one of the councils commentators may look to if they want to know how well the election is going for the Labour party. Their primary challengers are a mix of independents, so it is unlikely that they will completely lose their control over the council, but if Labour does not win Bolsover, it will be a difficult night for the party.

High Peak Borough Council is another place to read the national tea leaves on the Labour party’s fortunes. They have been governing as a minority since their majority win in 2019 has been slowly eroded by the passage of time. Anything less than a majority in High Peak will be a bad sign for Labour, and may even signal a change in the governing of the council.

Looking to West Lindsey District Council, there is another close contest, but this time between the Conservatives, who currently have the most seats, and the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats have won a few by-elections here, most famously after the Conservative ex-council leader was imprisoned for fraud, and will be hoping to tip the balance.

The mayoral contest in Mansfield will definitely be worth watching. Labour won by a tiny margin (two votes!) in the second round last time it was up in 2019. This year, with the new rules, there are no second rounds, so Labour will be hoping to stave off the many independents that have traditionally performed well in Mansfield. On the council, independents are currently the largest group, closely followed by Labour.

The Conservatives will be defending small majorities in North East Derbyshire and Erewash, where the Labour party is the main challenger. If Labour manage to take either of these it will be a good night for the party, retaking a significant 2019 loss in North East Derbyshire, and breaking a 20 year Conservative streak in Erewash, and if they manage to win a majority on both, it’ll be an excellent night for them.

A Conservative minority administration is under similar pressure in Derby City, where the whole council is up for election (after being a by-thirds council for decades). Labour made gains here in 2022, so will be hoping to overtake the Conservative party and form a majority. In the Derbyshire Dales there is no obvious single challenger to the Conservatives, but if the party loses many seats they could lose their majority on the council, a precarious position considering the Conservative leader recently resigned from the council after a local controversy.

East of England

suffolk shell sculpture
Photo by Rachel Cooper on Unsplash

There are 43 elections in the East of England this May – 37 district councils and six unitaries. Most of the councils up for election here are currently run by the Conservative party, and a good night for the Conservatives would have to include defending a few of these closer seats, such as Brentwood or Rochford. As we can see from the diagram above, most of the really close contests are along the East coast in places like Maldon.

On Maldon District Council, if the Conservatives manage to get just a few more councillors they will be in a position to make up an absolute majority on the council, and will regain a council that was Conservative for years before they lost their majority in 2021.

Brentwood Borough Council is another interesting contest, this time between the Conservative party, who currently have a tiny majority, and the next biggest party, the Liberal Democrats, who are only a handful of seats away from winning a majority of their own. If the Conservative party fail to hold on to Brentwood  it will be the first time since 2015 they have not commanded a majority on the council.

Mid Suffolk District Council is the first of our councils on this list where the Green party are the main challengers. The last time these seats were up for election, in 2019, the Green party managed to pick up 34% of the vote, up from 15% in 2015, and a similar swing this year would see them take the council this year. However, the Conservative party will be hoping to pick up two seats to give themselves a full majority on the council.

The Conservative party lost control of Rochford District Council in February of this year after three councillors left the Conservative group on the council. Only a third of the seats here are up for election, but it would be enough for the Conservatives to regain their majority, or for the independent groups that make up their main challengers to continue to deny them the opportunity.

Tendring District Council is another close contest on the east coast, and like Maldon, the Conservatives are challenged by a group of independents. As recently as 2015, UKIP had a major presence on the council, and it remains to be seen whether the first elections post-Brexit will see a significant change in Tendring. The Conservatives only need four more seats to get an overall majority.

One particularly interesting council is Babergh District Council, which has been run by a coalition since the Conservatives lost their overall majority in 2019. However, the Conservatives are still the largest party and will be hoping to gain a few seats and retake the council from the Liberal Democrat/Green/Independent coalition.

There are small Conservative majorities in East Cambridgeshire District Council, Great Yarmouth Borough Council, Welwyn Hatfield and King’s Lynn and West Norfolk where losing just a couple of seats in any of these councils could deprive them of their single-party control. The same is true for the Liberal Democrats in Chelmsford City, although they will most likely still be the largest party.  On Peterborough City Council the Conservatives are currently holding on to a minority, and although no party is likely to independently overtake them, a broad coalition could overtake the council if the Conservatives lose a significant number of seats.

No single party has control of Bedford Borough Council which is split pretty evenly between the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, however the important race here is for the elected mayor – currently held by the Liberal Democrats’ Dave Hodgson, who has been Mayor since 2009. In the last few elections the Conservatives have come in second, so watch out to see if this year, with the new electoral system for mayoral elections, the Liberal Democrats can hold on.

There are a few councils with no overall control where small changes could result in the formation of new coalitions – in North Hertfordshire Labour and the Liberal Democrats are currently running the council together, but the Conservatives are the largest party. Similar coalitions lead the councils in Colchester and Southend-on-Sea, each time with the Conservatives as the largest party but not participating in the coalition.

North East

beach at sunrise
Photo by Jack O'Rourke on Unsplash

 

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.

North West

Altitude marker Pendle Hill
Photo by Caroline Dowse on Unsplash

map of North West councils holding elections

 

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.

South East

The South East has the largest number of elections this year – 57 – and a fair few of these, especially the NOC councils as we can see in the diagram above, are very close to changing hands. About half of the elections here are whole-council elections, but most of the ones-to-watch are elections by thirds. The South East is also home to a few of the least competitive Conservative councils in the country, such as Sevenoaks, where the Conservatives have 43 out 54 seats.

Gravesham Borough Council in Kent is on a knife edge between Labour and the Conservatives. Out of 44 total seats, the Conservatives have 21 and Labour 22. The whole council is up for election, so things could look very different once all the ballot papers are counted. Lessons from the last 30 years show that Gravesham council can and will change hands, so definitely one of the ones to watch.

A third of seats in Crawley Borough Council are up for election, which is enough for Labour to lose the slim majority they have held since 2022. The Conservatives are only 3 seats behind Labour. A decent result for either party could see them take control.

Wokingham Borough Council is in a similar situation but with different parties. In this case, no party has a majority, the Liberal Democrats having gained enough seats from the Conservatives in 2022 to deny them the majority they had held for 20 years before. This council is fascinating to look back on, you only need to go back as far as 2018 and the Conservatives had 41 seats out of 54. Today they have only 26, and if the Liberal Democrats pull off the same gain in seats as they managed last year, they will take single-party control of the council. As it is, they have governed in coalition with Labour and Independents for the last year.

Hart District Council is a rare three-way split between Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Independents, primarily made up of a local party called Community Campaign (Hart) or CCH. Given that 17 seats are needed for a majority, and all three groups have between 10 and 11 seats, it looks as though anything could happen in Hart. Although recent history would suggest that this three-way tie is resilient, having defined the council’s political balance since 2014.

In Southampton City Council the Labour party is holding onto a tiny majority they won in 2022, after the Conservatives won a majority the year before in 2021. Will these elections signal another change in Southampton, or will Labour hold onto their majority? Definitely one to watch.

There are a few councils in the South East which currently have small majorities. The Liberal Democrats in Eastbourne, or the Conservatives in Windsor and Maidenhead and Test Valley. All of these are whole council elections, so it remains to be seen whether these small majorities can survive a full election, or if there will be significant changes.

Finally, there are a huge number of NOC councils in the South East, and as you can see in the map above, these are usually fairly marginal. Watch out for the Conservative minorities in: Chichester, Spelthorne, Surrey Heath, Ashford, and Arun where they face challenges from the Liberal Democrats or strong local independents. Or the slim Conservative majorities in West Berkshire Council, Cherwell District Council, Canterbury City Council or Maidstone Borough Council where much the same applies.

Then there are the coalitions in Rother, Milton Keynes, South Oxfordshire, Elmbridge, Folkestone and Hythe, Swale, West Oxfordshire, LewesTunbridge Wells, and Waverley Borough Council where the Conservatives are the greatest challengers, often making up the largest party.

The South East represents one of the most important regions for the Conservative party in these elections. In lots of these close contests the Conservatives are either close to a majority, or holding on by a slim margin. A bad night for the Conservatives in the South East would make a significant dent in the overall number of councils they control.

South West

Stunt airplanes at Torbay
Photo by Ray Harrington on Unsplash

The entire South West region could ‘change colour’ overnight, as technically most of the councils with elections could swap political control. There are eleven district councils holding elections, with all but one (Exeter) with all seats up for grabs. Seven unitary councils are also holding elections with only two, Plymouth and Swindon electing by thirds.

Plymouth City Council has traditionally flipped between Labour and Conservative control. There is currently a Conservative minority administration which has only just elected a new leader after the previous leader Richard Bingley got the axe after a tree felling controversy. Since there are fewer Conservative councillors than Labour, there was some speculation that former Labour leader Tudor Evans might form an administration, but he demurred, insisting voters have their say.

Torbay Council is run by a Liberal Democrat and Independent coalition, with slightly more Conservative than LibDem councillors. Will recent controversies over affordable housing on greenfield land and pedestrianising in Paignton benefit the Tories? Would it be enough to increase their majority by the five seats they need to take control?

Swindon Council is technically ‘flippable’, and while Conservatives lost seats at the last election (May 2022) they still hold a reasonable majority and only a third of seats are up. However, about twice as many Tory held seats will be contested as Labour (the only other contender), including in wards which saw Labour gains in 2022.

Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole Council (BCP), is a relatively new council, and this is only its second set of elections. There is a Conservative minority administration with a rainbow of seats in opposition. There would probably have to be significant LibDem gains to change much.

In North Somerset,  the Conservatives have been steadily losing ground since 2011, with the council going into a rainbow coalition the last time elections were held in 2019. But other major parties have fared no better, with gains going to Greens and Independents.

Both Cotswold DC (LibDem) and South Hams DC (Cons) both with all out elections currently have just enough seats to have political control with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats respectively having the next largest group. West Devon Council’s conservative majority is only one up on the number of seats it needs for a majority administration, but there is no next major political grouping.

Teignbridge has a minority Lib Dem administration after a gain from the Conservatives at the last election in 2019.

Forest of Dean Council in Gloucestershire has been in No Overall Control for two decades and has had an Independent cabinet. Council leader Tim Gwilliam has been mulling stepping down, but currently seems set to run. Though it’s an all-out election, it would be a shocker if the council tipped out of NOC. Torridge Council in Devon also has a long history of NOC and half of its Members are independent councillors, though it did have a spell of Conservative control until 2019.

West Midlands

Twenty-five councils are holding elections in the West Midlands, this includes: 17 district councils, six Metropolitan district councils and two unitaries.

Four years ago, Conservatives lost control of Herefordshire Council. There are at least four different types of Independents in Herefordshire and two of the groupings plus the Greens form the administration. Conservatives are still the largest ‘Westminster party’, but they would face an uphill climb to retake control.  Currently Stoke-on-Trent is a Conservative minority administration just shy of a majority. With a large grouping of independents,  it could stay NOC, just in a different shade if Conservatives fail to do well. The other unitary council with elections in the West Midlands, Telford and Wrekin, has a more comfortable Labour majority.

Only one of the Metropolitan District Councils polling in this region has all its seats up for election, Dudley Borough Council, which has a comfortable Conservative majority. The three Labour councils Coventry, Wolverhampton and Sandwell seem to have secure majorities. Solihull, once solidly Conservative, now has the narrowest of majorities, with a growing presence of both Green councillors and mixed fortunes at best for the Liberal Democrats over the last few years.

After a seven seat loss in 2019, Conservatives are still the largest party in Wyre Forest, but don’t have quite enough for a majority. A coalition of everyone else, including two Independent groupings run the council. Malvern Hills is in a similar position, but with a larger proportion of independent councillors and an Independent/ Liberal Democrat coalition. Warwick District Council has a Conservative/ Independent coalition with the Conservatives the largest party grouping by far.

Worcester City Council has been swinging between Conservative and NOC for the last twenty years and is currently a Conservative minority administration. Stafford Borough Council also has a Conservative minority administration, and the independent grouping has developed into a stand-alone party the Stafford Borough Independents registered with the Electoral Commission. There is also a controversial plan for housing asylum seekers in and around the market town which may raise the heat locally.

Stratford-on-Avon has been in Conservative control for two decades but currently has the slimmest majority. Other Conservative councils in the region with small majorities include Bromsgrove, Redditch Borough Council, Rugby Borough Council and Staffordshire Moorlands.  The remaining district councils in the West Midlands are in Conservative control with more comfortable majorities.

Yorkshire and Humber

rocks in Yorkshire countryside
Photo by Ian Cylkowski on Unsplash

This region has five unitaries and seven metropolitan districts with elections this year.

In 2022, the Liberal Democrats ended Labour’s 10 year control of Kingston-upon-Hull City Council. With just a two seat edge over the Labour group, Liberal Democrats will be working hard to keep control of their only council up for election in this region.

Sheffield City Council has a multi-party coalition across Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Greens. Labour is the largest grouping and has the least distance to travel to an outright majority needing to win five seats. It’s within reach, too, with only a small swing from the LibDems to make the ground.

The City of York has a LibDem and Green coalition, but Labour aren’t far behind the Liberal Democrats and the elections are all out. Cllr Keith Aspden, a 20 year council veteran, who has lead the LibDem group for a decade and has been leader for the past four years is standing down at the election.

Two Labour mets have a razor edge majority. A single seat is the balance in Kirklees and Labour is barely more secure in Calderdale, both are electing by thirds. In Calderdale, a controversial local housing plan may drive voter intent.

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