The surreal 2019 local election results

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

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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.

Local Elections 2018: Reality triumphs over expectation

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Local elections 2018 Pic credit:BBC

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The local elections have been portrayed  in the mass media as a disappointment for Labour ,a shot in the arm for Theresa May and a revival for the Liberal Democrats

In the pre election scenario Labour were expected  to  sweep all before them winning Tory councils in London and elsewhere, Theresa May was going to face a dire night and the Lib Dems were not going to do so well because of their poll ratings.

Yes  Labour are partly to blame for creating this scenario  with the promise of a Momentum style surge knocking  the Tories out of Barnet, Westminster, Wandsworth and Hillingdon in London and winning Swindon, Plymouth and Trafford outside the capital. They had high expectations after the surprise  rebirth under Jeremy Corbyn in the last general election and thought another heave would do it.

But it would be very foolish to write up these elections as the end of Labour’s progress or  ruling out a slow revival of the Liberal Democrats.

For a start the final analysis of voting by the BBC shows that if there was a  general election was based on these voting figures Labour would have got another 21 seats, andbecome the largest party in Parliament . The Tories would have lost 38 seats and the Lib Dems gained another 10. If that had  happened last year Theresa May would not have been able to form a government and it would be Labour plus a coalition that would be negotiating with Brussels.  And if you compare it with last year’s council elections it was the Tories making nearly all the gains. not Labour.

A more detailed analysis shows why this is true. Although Labour did not gain the breakthrough to take another four London boroughs from the Tories, their vote share was much nearer than their seat share. In Westminster where the Lab vote share jumped by 7.6 per cent – the difference in percentage support between Labour and the Tories is not much more than point. In Wandsworth there is only a 150 votes difference between the Tories and Labour running the council.

Even in Barnet where Labour’s self inflicted wound over antisemitism  led to a 13 seat Tory majority- the Tories biggest gains – the Labour share of the vote went up 2.8 pc but was trumped by a 6.6 per cent rise for the Tories.

Also not noticed in London is that Labour increased the number of seats on councils they already run, notably in Ealing, Enfield, Harrow, Hammersmith and Fulham and Waltham Forest – which will make it difficult for the Tories to regain Parliamentary seats.

In Swindon where Labour gained just one seat more people voted Labour than Tory but obviously not in the key wards. Interestingly in Plymouth where Labour won the council, more people voted Tory than Labour but not in the right places.

Also where councils switched from no overall control to Tory control – it was often by a couple of seats in places like Peterborough. The one exception was Nuneaton and Bedworth where the Tories were robbed – they got 51 per cent of the vote there but could win enough seats to take the council.

The other big factor which stymied Labour  and helped the Tories was UKIP. Many UKIP voters became Tories so they could get a hard Brexit. In Basildon and Great Yarmouth this gave the Tories the edge over Labour.  Labour did take  back seats from UKIP, but the Tories took more. In Great Yarmouth former UKIP candidates actually became Tory candidates. Britain Elects shows this disparity examining 81 UKIP losses with the Tories gaining 47 seats from UKIP while Labour gained 30.

It should not be a total surprise that the Lib Dems do well in local elections, they have won quite  a number of by-elections over the last year. But in three councils- where the whole authority was up for grabs – they did spectacularly well, trouncing the Tories. These are South Cambridgeshire, Richmond and Kingston, where they won sweeping gains pushing the Tories out. They also won seats in Hull, Sunderland  and Gosport but were pushed back in Birmingham and Newcastle upon Tyne.

So what is the prospect? The Tories can take comfort that they were not trounced and could claim a mandate for a hard Brexit after hoovering up  much of the UKIP vote. It is rather ironic that Theresa May treated councils she had not lost  as a victory parade-normally you go to places to celebrate a Tory gain.

Labour need to tackle the antisemitic issue promptly and to reflect soberly on how they need more than an incompetent government to form a majority administration. And the Lib Dems need to build on their local government base as a springboard to win  more seats in Westminster.

The reality for all parties is that it is going to be a hard slog to get or stay in government.