The 2018 local elections, a briefer

On May 3rd 160 local authorities will see electoral contests of sorts, be they lone council by-elections or the entire authority going to the polls. Britain Elects number crunching* has found 4,425 seats will be up for grabs, 40 per cent (1,833) of which are in London. Much of England’s cities and urban areas will be going to the polls this Thursday.

Labour will be defending the lion’s share of seats this year, given the large proportion of authorities being metropolitan boroughs, at 2,300; the Conservatives will be defending 1,416; and the Liberal Democrats 473.

UKIP, following their high-point in 2014, and now facing annihilation, are defending 136; and the Greens are defending 32.

My expectation of this year’s set of elections is that anything other than a repeat of the most recent general election will be a surprise. Polling has consistently shown the Tories and Labour to be almost always within a point or two of each other and forever within the error margin of their performance in June of last year. Recent council by-elections, too, have generally shown constituencies that swung either Labour or Tory in 2017 have stuck to swinging so in council contests.

This does not mean there will be no change to the control or composition of the authorities up. Almost all of the seats up this year were last up in 2014: a year when UKIP were polling in the high-teens; Labour and the Tories were dogfighting over 33 per cent in the polls; Amber Valley was a marginal constituency and Westminster a safe Tory borough— today, UKIP are down to three per cent, the big two are fighting over 41 per cent, Amber Valley is a safe Tory seat and Westminster a Labour target.

The increase in support for the big two and the growing divide between English politics and London politics makes this year’s local elections interesting albeit an increasingly difficult one to analyse. In the 2017 locals every English authority saw a swing to the Tories; this year will be no repeat. Authorities including but not limited to Amber Valley, Great Yarmouth and Thurrock will, I expect, with the latter two as a consequence of a declining UKIP, see swings to the Tories; while councils such as Trafford, Lincoln and Plymouth will swing to Labour.

The focus from commentators and readers on London is understandable, though mistaken. London was the only region across Britain to see the Tories lose vote share in 2017, and marginal authorities such as Plymouth, Amber Valley, Thurrock, Kirklees, Peterborough, Walsall, and Trafford have more to say in where the parties might be nationally, and whether votes have shifted enough to set either one on course for a majority in parliament, than, say, whether Labour can win Westminster City Council, symbolic though it may be!

Polls will be open this Thursday from 7am to 10pm with most metropolitan authorities counting throughout the night. Britain Elects will be on hand to provide ward-by-ward results as they come in with commentary following the event summarising what’s happened and what it might mean.

*Long nights spent drowning amongst the company of spreadsheets.