Local Elections Takeaways

By Kasia Banaś, Account Director 

Conservative gains 

Last week’s local elections were hailed as a big success for the Conservatives who took control of a dozen councils and gained more than 200 new Tory councillors. Local elections and by-elections are traditionally a trying period for a governing party and an opportunity for voters to show their frustrations with those in power. This was not the case this time. The voters rewarded the Government for a successful roll-out of the vaccination programme and gave it a significant boost.   

Some of the biggest wins for the Tories came in Midlands and the North of England where the Brexit realignment seen in the last two general elections continues. While lacking in detail, the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda was another draw for the electorate in the previously unwinnable for the Conservatives areas.  

There are, however, some worrying signs for the Conservatives in the traditionally blue areas in the south where they lost seats or failed to gain any. While they only lost control of a few councils – Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire, the Isle of Wight and Tunbridge Wells – it is a signal of a bigger trend in changing voting patterns. 

The (very slow) rise of the Greens 

Another success story of the elections is the strong performance of the Green Party. The Greens gained 88 seats in the English councils, came third in the London mayoral election, pushing the LibDems into 4th place.  In the south west the joint biggest party in Bristol with gains against Labour across the city.  Although their presence remains small, they managed to put themselves on the radar by taking votes from all parties. They are challenging Labour in big cities and taking votes from Conservatives in the home counties, where the Tories have been struggling for a while now. While the Greens have a long way to go to become serious contender in general elections, this is a growing trend worth watching.  

What’s next for Labour? 

It has been a disappointing week for Labour which started with the defeat in Hartlepool parliamentary by-election. The party also lost 300+ seats and control of eight councils. The few gains made in Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire or West Sussex are telling of the changing appeal to the traditional Labour voter. 

Labour remains strong in the cities and easily held on to their mayoralties of the Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester, North Tyneside, and Salford. It faced strong challenges from Conservatives in Doncaster, from an independent candidate in Liverpool City and the Greens in Bristol, but all three were held on second preferences. These challenges do confirm however, the wider trends of growing Tory appeal in the north and impressive Green surge in the south.  

Sadiq Khan’s victory in London, predicted as a landslide, was tighter than expected. He won on second preferences with a smaller share of the vote than received in 2016.   

Keir Starmer vowed to do “whatever is necessary” to rebuild the trust of working people in Labour and started with a reshuffle of his shadow cabinet team and sacking his deputy Angela Rayner from her role as party chairman and national campaign co-ordinator. He also appointed a new director of strategy, Gordon Brown’s former chief pollster Deborah Mattinson who authored a book about the 2019 loss of the so called ’red wall’.