Local Elections

We are now entering the ‘purdah’ stage of the upcoming election; a time when pre-election communication rules come into place to prevent local authorities from publishing information which could influence voters. After a turbulent summer and autumn last year, many are viewing this May’s elections as a stern test for Rishi Sunak’s Government, and a litmus test for whether Labour can form the next government. Chelgate Local has published some of its predictions for this election, which you can find here, with others to follow in the coming weeks.

Generally, if the polls are to be believed, there will be a 15+% swing away from the Conservatives. Last year, the polls predicted the usual mid-term trouncing of the party of government in favour of the main opposition party, but it did not materialise. Yes, the Conservatives lost 336 seats but Labour only gained 22, with the real winners the LibDems, which gained 194, and the Greens with 63.

What will happen this year? Although it is clear there will be a swing away from the Conservatives, the magnitude is unknown: we predict that overall, the swing will be around 10-12%. The destination of that dislodged support will be interesting: it is unlikely to all go to Labour, although the party will do better than it did last year. It does depend on the area with the LibDems and Greens likely to attract disillusioned Conservative voters in the south east and south, with Labour making gains in urban areas and more northerly areas.

Different Council Types

There are two main tiers of local government: County Councils and District/Borough/City Councils. The two tiers have different responsibilities. There are also Unitary Authorities and Metropolitan Boroughs. These councils have a blend of tier 1 and tier 2 responsibilities with higher power taking on some other responsibilities. For instance, devolved powers such as London and Manchester will hold certain responsibilities, such as fire and police, whilst the metropolitan boroughs will have responsibility for local infrastructure.

Election Cycle

In England, there are a variety of electoral cycles. These cycles dictate when councillors are up for election and therefore when elections are held. Councils are either ‘all-up’ or ‘by thirds’.

When a council is ‘all-up’, the whole council is elected every four years with all seats contested at once. For instance, Ashford District Council’s last election was on May 5, 2019. Ashford has 47 council seats in total, all of which will be contested on 4 May.

A ‘by thirds’ cycle is when only a third of councillors contest their seats at each election. This happens for three years and there are no elections in the fourth (that year being county elections where applicable). For instance, Ipswich Borough Council with 48 council seats in total, with 16 being contested this year.

Breakdown of contested councils

In the May 2023 election, a total of 8057 seats are being contested across 4,831 wards. This includes 152 District Councils; 105 of these are whole council elections, whilst 47 are by thirds. There will also be 46 Unitary Authorities being contested; 32 are whole council elections whilst 14 are by thirds. There will also be 32 Metropolitan Borough elections; 9 are whole council elections whilst 22 are by thirds. There will also be 4 Mayor elections; Bedford, Leicester, Mansfield, and Middlesbrough.

Of the total seats up for election, 3,370 are Conservative, 2,144 are Labour, 1,225 are LibDem, 955 are Independent, and 240 are Green.

London borough elections were held in 2022, their next cycle will not be until 2026 now. The London Mayor election is also not taking place. Sadiq Khan has another year before he sets his campaign for a third term. There will also be no County Council elections as these were held in 2021 and are all on whole electoral cycles – the next elections here will be 2025.