The surreal 2019 local election results

Conservatives lose, Labour disappoint, Lib Dems revive and Greens grow

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

The 2019 local elections were one of the most surreal in recent times. For a start two of the newest party groups, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and the breakaway group, ChangeUK, were too late to field any candidates. So they didn’t reflect the range of political alternatives on offer.

The voting results Pic credit: BBC

They took place against a background of massive disillusion with politicians and country bitterly divided between Remain and Brexit.

The comparison with 2015 – the last time the seats were fought- was not equally valid as the 2015 elections were on the same day as a general election when more people turn out to vote.

England scoreboard

PARTYCOUNCILLORSCHANGE +/-
Conservative3564-1330
Labour2021-84
Liberal Democrat1352+705
Green265+194
UKIP31-145
Others1177+660

So it was not surprising that the two major parties suffered and there was a rise in the number of Independents elected reversing a trend for decades.

However contrary to some of the reporting disillusionment did not fall equally on the Tories and Labour. The Tories lost out massively , Labour did not.


The Conservative party lost 1,330 seats and lost control of 45 councils. They now have control of 93 councils. Labour gained some councils but finished with an overall loss of six councils ending up controlling 60.

The Lib Dems managed net gains of 11 councils – leaving them in control of 18. The Greens did not win any council but are now a presence in both rural and urban areas.

When you get down to the detail you find Labour’s performance reflects a trend that was going on last year. The party is finding it is losing ground in some traditional working class areas where they have dominated for decades but still gaining ground in the most unlikely of places, particularly in the South.

The must dramatic losses were in Sunderland ( 10 seats), Bolsover (14) and North East Derbyshire ( 17), Redcar and Cleveland ( 13) all traditional working class areas. They also were driven back in Derby where the Tories are now the largest party and lost five seats in South Tyneside. Labour lost to a landslide of Independents in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire and now only have two councillors left. Labour disappeared completely in Dacorum ( Hemel Hemsptead) where they have been declining for years. In Stoke on Trent where Labour launched its local election campaign it lost five seats and the Tories gained eight. They also lost control of Bolton, Darlington , Stockton, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool.

Now the council leader of Sunderland Graeme Miller blamed the loss of Labour seats on a ” massive protest ” over the party’s attitude to Brexit by agreeing there could be a second referendum. This may have been partly true – as other big losses were in Leave areas – but in Sunderland voters seem to be saying ” Anybody but Labour” by voting in UKIP, Liberal Democrat , Conservative and Green councillors.

Now if this was repeated all over the country it would have been a very bad night for Labour. But it wasn’t. Labour gained seats to take control of Trafford, High Peak and Gravesham in Kent. They also remarkably took over Witney town council winning 15 of 17 seats on David Cameron’s doorstep.

And again like last year they won seats in areas where Labour hasn’t existed for years. This included one seat on South Norfolk council, one seat on Lyme Regis town council, 16 gains in Thanet – last time a UKIP stronghold, six in Folkestone and Hythe, where they hadn’t been represented, and they doubled their councillors in Worthing from five to ten. They also won 3 seats on Lewes council in East Sussex where they have not been represented for a decade.More surprisingly they took two seats in Surrey on Waverley council – both in Godalming, bringing back into politics the former Labour MP for Broxtowe, Nick Palmer. The rout in Waverley which covers true blue Farnham and Haslemere saw a 49 seat Tory majority collapse with 30 Tory councillors losing their seats ( Lib Dems gained 13, Greens two, and Farnham Residents, an independent group ended up with 14 councillors.

The Liberal Democrats did well with landslide results in Chelmsford, North Norfolk, Bath and North East Somerset, Vale of the White Horse, Hinckley & Bosworth, Winchester, Cotswolds, North Devon, Mole Valley, North Devon, Somerset West & Taunton and Teignbridge. Without doubt at a local level they have shrugged off their appalling performances after the coalition government but it is not entirely clear that in every area it will mean a rejection of Brexit. The Greens also now have a presence on many councils by winning seats in both rural and urban areas and strengthening their position in Lewes, Brighton and Norwich.

The Conservative losses are so numerous that it is impossible to list all the 45 councils they no longer control. But there was a devastating trail across Kent and Surrey and serious losses in the West country. Among the biggest losses were Waverley (30), Guildford ( 22) Bath and North East Somerset ( 25) ,Chelmsford (31) , Swale (16) North Norfolk (19) and Kings Lynn (16).

What does all mean? It is too facile to see this as a Brexit v Remain result particularly as they have been a substantial rise in Independents. These are by no means all Tories in disguise. On one level it is the reverse of the 2017 general election which saw the two main parties dominate. Now they are in the back foot in some of their strongholds – whether it be the North East or parts of the Midlands for Labour or the South East, West country and parts of East Anglia for the Tories.

Labour is still advancing the South East and has strengthened its position in Manchester. The Lib Dems are back with a vengeance in former strongholds.What will happen next with the European elections and the Peterborough by-election may also not be a true guide.

We live in surreal times and these were surreal local elections.

6 thoughts on “The surreal 2019 local election results

  1. By far the most surreal thing in all of this is the tory and Labour leaders interpreting the results as an instruction to hurry up and deliver Brexit, surely?

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  2. In your article you stated, “When you get down to the detail you find Labour’s performance reflects a trend that was going on last year. The party is finding it is losing ground in some traditional working class areas where they have dominated for decades”.
    I wish to only draw conclusions from results in the North East and relate them to events in Scotland in earlier years
    They used to be say they weighed Labour’s vote in the seats of County Durham and at election times election posters would be in every house in many working class communities . They also used to say stick a red rosette on a donkey and it be elected. This last comment underlined the unquestioning loyalty of Labour voters. “THE PARTY” was a commonly used term and showed the same unquestioning loyalty to the party. The party’s support arose from these factors, the 1945 Labour government welfare and most of all the founding of a FREE NHS, The other key factor was economic and alongside it workers versus bosses, Labour nationalised large sections of North East industry, and the North East in parts resembled a workers state only difference was it was the bureaucrats who ran it. As for the Tory Party they resembled the Brexit Party picking up the votes of the disgruntled and the small middle class, That was the North East in late 1940′ to mid 1960;s Now move forward 50 years and the North East can be seen as three distinct places, Firstly, a person who left 60 years ago would be surprised at the cosmopolitan feel of the City of Newcastle which incidentally had a LibDem council in recent years, A city with two universities and a large student population, Then visiting the former mining villages on the outskirts of Sunderland you will find new private housing estates and this applies to many former mining villages. The occupations have changed, much as focussed on low paid zero hours contracts, there is work in the growing sectors of the economy a considerable amount non unionised, Local government is no longer the job provider it had been under government cuts many staff received early retirement or were switched to private companies,
    Now there lies part of your answer to why Labour seems to be in slow decline, the party has less influence, amongst the voters, There is another reason which I call the Southern Democrat phenomenon, this started in the 1960’s with many of Labours reforms under Roy Jenkins and today the perceived open door policy of immigration, many North East Labour voters who are social conservatives may find either a new home perhaps Brexit or just stop voting
    Now this brings me to Scotland, in many ways what can be said about the North East could apply to Scotland, the difference was it did much more rapidly as Labour voters soon found a comfortable home with the SNP, In 2015 the Labour party was almost wiped out and I suspect if the old counties of Northumberland and Durham had been part of Scotland the same fate would have met the Labour MP’s.

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    • This is very interesting analysis. It may also explain the rise of Labour in the South. What is happening in places like Canterbury ( which went Labour in 2017), High Wycombe ( which only has a 5000 Tory majority now) is that people are moving out of London because of high house prices to towns like these and are young Labour voters attracted by Corbyn’s policies to do something about affordable housebuilding, renationalise the railways and are generally happy with immigration. In Worthing the angry Tory MP Peter Bottomley calls them ” champagne socialists ” who should be voting Tory but have been attracted to Worthing from Brighton and London bec of high house prices in both places. Now it looks as though this spreading to Folkestone, Thanet and the poorer parts of Lewes ( Peacehaven was a Labour gain this time). In central London it is different. The Tories have been hoisted on their own petard in Battersea and Kensington going Labour by allowing foreign buyers to snap up nearly all the new luxury developments. They tend to leave the flats as empty assets rather than letting them up so the Tories don’t get votes from new up market tenants and the owners of course cannot vote. The Tories are really worried about this – there were no fewer than five fringe meetings at last year’s party conference on why the party is losing the vote of the under 40s.

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  3. If you accept that the failure to provide Brexit was a major factor, one thing that no analysis seems to have considered is that the LibDems are not gaining in popularity but are the only viable alternative to voting Conservative or Labour; a protest vote would be wasted on any of the smaller parties/independents who have insufficient standing to make a real difference. Unfortunately, all they did was split the vote. There are those who wanted to protest at the behaviour of the two main parties but could not countenance voting for the othet one – there really was no alternative.

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