Westminster commentators are often quick to fix their own narrative to local election results nationally, but examining the individual results provide much more nuance. While they are often a barometer on national mood, local elections are, believe it or not, sometimes contested on local issues.
With around half declared or close to declaring this morning – and with the rest starting imminently – which results have stood out, and which should aficionados of local elections be looking out for later today?
If these elections were about voters sending a Brexit message to the Government, it’s a rather confused one. The biggest trend to look at this morning is the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats benefitting and to a slightly lesser extent the Greens along with smaller independent parties. Some might say that, shorn of the options of either Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party or indeed UKIP, a vote for the Lib Dems and the Greens was a protest vote at the two main parties.
However, looking at the campaigns in a council like St Albans – which has gone from Conservative to no overall control thanks to a surge in Liberal Democrat votes – local issues including the controversial local plan and the potential to build on the Green Belt have dominated. The Liberal Democrats have been actively campaigning on this for some time. The real Brexit impact may well have been how motivated Conservative activists were to go out and campaign.
Thus far it has been a bad night for the Conservatives – losing around 300 seats so far with the final total losses predicted to be around 800. The Liberal Democrats have taken some big gains directly from the Conservatives – notably Bath and North East Somerset, where they took 23 seats directly from the Conservatives; North Norfolk from no overall control to a decisive win; Cotswold District Council and Winchester.
However, they have been less of a feature elsewhere. In other supposed Brexit indicators, the Conservatives lost three seats in Basildon with Labour gaining two. Local independents (an increasing feature in Basildon politics) won a further three with UKP losing two. The net result is the council going to no overall control from the Conservatives.
Halton – a strongly Leave voting area – was held by Labour, who lost just one council seat. Sunderland – so often linked to Brexit – saw Labour lose seats equally to the Conservatives and the Lib Dems (four each) with three going to UKIP and one to the Greens. But with Labour still retaining control. Labour’s leadership there has been under considerable scrutiny for some time.
Swindon is one of the results that commentators will point to as an indicator of political fortunes at the next General Election. Labour trailed the Conservatives by just three councillors at the start of the night with 26 seats (Con 29, Labour 26 and Lib Dem 2). It is the sort of place Labour should seek to win if it has genuine hopes for a General Election, but it only managed to take one seat from the Conservatives who retain control.
Labour also lost Bolton and Wirral to no overall control, failed to prevent the Conservatives from taking Walsall. It failed to take Derby City Council, losing 6 councillors in the process but did manage to take Trafford from no overall control.
Along with the Greens, the rise of the independents will be a key feature of this election as politics becomes more fragmented and drive by local issues. Where independent candidates have stood, they have tended to secure around 25% of the votes declared so far. Labour has lost the Middlesbrough mayoralty to an independent, with local independent parties also now controlling Ashfield and Kesteven.
Ones to look out for later today: what will the impact of a local residents’ association be in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead – the Prime Minister’s own council?
Can Labour take Milton Keynes which sits in the balance, along with council like Redcar and Cleveland? Can the Conservatives retain Solihull?