As voters head to the polling booths on 3rd May for the latest round of local elections, they will have much to think about as they decide on which party gets a cross next to their name. Currently, the national political scene is being dominated by the Windrush crisis, potential military intervention in Syria, and an ongoing anti-Semitism row in the Labour party. Despite these major issues, it will most likely be local concerns that will influence the results. Atlas intern Sam Hogg looks at some of the factors at play.
STATE OF PLAY
These local elections will see contests up and down the country with over 4,300 seats up for grabs - including all councils and councillors in London.
In 2014 when these seats were last contested, Labour gained control of six additional councils and 300 councillors. This means the party will have more seats to defend on this occasion and in theory Labour may find it difficult to make significant in-roads. In contrast, the Conservatives start from a lower base having lost 236 councillors in 2014 although early predictions suggest they're in for another long night. The Lib Dems also suffered a disappointing night in 2014, losing over 300 councillors - resentment across 'Remain' areas of London may offer them a chance to win back seats with their anti-Brexit message.
ONES TO WATCH
Wandsworth and Westminster
Pundits across the political spectrum will be keeping a close eye on two boroughs in particular: Wandsworth and Westminster. Both are traditionally Conservative strongholds – the former was rumoured to be Margaret Thatcher’s favourite borough, whilst the latter has been in Tory hands for the last 54 years. Now, with local elections imminent, there is a palpable sense of worry among the Conservative party. Theresa May used Prime Minister's Questions to remind voters that Conservative councils cost residents less in council tax than their Labour counterparts. Citing two London boroughs (naturally), May highlighted that residents in the Tory Wandsworth pay about £700 a year, whereas in Labour Lambeth they pay about £1,400. “No clearer example can there be that Conservative councils cost you less," concluded the Prime Minister. Winning either or both would be a significant and symbolic result for Corbyn’s Labour – with this in mind, we predict a Tory hold in Westminster, and a Labour gain in Wandsworth.
Kensington and Chelsea
There are a selection of other boroughs worth keeping a close eye on. Firstly, the Conservative stronghold of Kensington and Chelsea. Currently, the Conservative party have a 24-seat majority, holding 37 out of a possible 50 seats across 18 wards. However, with the Grenfell Tower disaster fresh in voters’ minds, Tory councillors are likely to come under intense pressure to hold onto their seats. Labour also tasted success at the 2017 General Election when Emma Dent Coad MP seized the seat from Victoria Borwick.
What about new entrants? Advance has put forward 14 candidates for selection and are running on the promise of bringing local interests back to the forefront of the borough. Can they breakthrough, possibly even holding the balance of power? The odds are against them but everyone loves an outsider...
However, on balance, this borough is unlikely to change hands. On the theme of balancing power, Renew and the Women's Equality Party will be looking to make minor gains in their chosen boroughs. Although both parties campaign actively across the capital; we don't anticipate any major breakthroughs for either.
Let's move north to Barnet. The borough boasts one of the largest Jewish communities in London and until last month was governed by a narrow Conservative majority until a Tory councillor resigned his seat. For Labour, this borough may prove an interesting measure of how, if at all, the ongoing anti-Semitism scandal has affected the party; a clear change from being favourites to win the Council only last month.
With London Labour mayor Sadiq Khan claiming he had spoken to Jewish Londoners who “genuinely believe” the party is not for them, could Labour actually go backwards in Barnet? It’s too close to call, but Labour’s recent problems point to a narrow Conservative hold.
Let’s go to the South-West London and sunny Kingston-upon-Thames. This is Lib Dem territory - or used to be at least - until the Tories seized control in 2014. Energised by Ed Davey’s general election win last year and running on an ‘Exit from Brexit’ theme, the party will be hoping to pick up disenfranchised ‘Remain’ Conservative and Labour voters. Tentatively we suggest a Lib Dem gain.
OUTSIDE OF LONDON
Across England, four metropolitan boroughs have council seats up for grab: Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Labour historically perform well in metropolitan areas north of the Watford gap and will be looking for gains. A further 30 urban boroughs have a third of their seats up for election, so we expect to see a solid, if unspectacular, Labour performance.
Outside of the cities, the picture looks a little brighter for the Tories. Thirteen boroughs have at least half their seats up for grabs, with seven having all their seats available. The Tories and Labour will battle to win seats from the ailing UKIP, who pollsters believe will be all but wiped out. Expect to see (former) UKIP strongholds like Dudley and North East Lincolnshire being hard fought over by both parties, with the Tories more likely to make gains.
THE MINOR PARTIES
What about the other parties? There will be various areas that will be the focus of their attention. Sunderland is a good example; although a Labour stronghold, the local council has been plagued with scandal, resulting in an arrest and a Facebook group springing up in protest calling voters to “Vote Anything But Labour.” Likewise, the Green Party often perform well in university cities, currently holding seats in Leeds, Brighton and Liverpool. Monitoring the Green’s performance in these wards will provide an insight into whether the party still holds any clout on the local stage.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
In the hysteria of the moment, while the votes are being counted and the tension builds on social media, expect to see doom and gloom forecasts for the future of the Conservative party, and scenes of elation for Labour. Should the results be poor for the Tories, some pundits will call this the end of Theresa May. Likewise, a strong Labour sweep will be heralded in some circles as definitive proof that Jeremy Corbyn is on the march to No10.
The reality is, as ever, more complex. For a variety of reasons, the governing party tend to perform poorly at local elections. A moderate loss for Theresa May’s party would not be reflective of the national voting intention. Likewise, a strong sweep for Corybn’s Labour will boost his credibility and standing but is not representative of how the population would vote should a snap election be called tomorrow.
Political commentators are near universal in their belief this will be Labour’s night – they have never been wrong before, have they? Our recommendation: keep your eyes on the marginal seats we have flagged. They will prove indicative of how recent national news has affected politics at a local level, but don't bet that it will be a true reflection of national sentinment. We mustn;t forget that last year the Tories 'won' the local elections one-month prior to the General Election. And we all know how that turned out...