- This year’s local elections have been particularly significant as voters were not only presented with the opportunity to select local councillors and a few powerful new mayors, but also to permanently and radically reshape the structure of governance in England’s largest cities.
- A total of 128 of England’s 433 local authorities had local elections, with either all, half or a third of seats contested in each. Altogether about 5,000 council seats across the length and breadth of Britain were up for grabs.
The weekend media has been full of the results and this morning we are able to consider some of the longer term implications of voters’ choices.
- The results put Labour on the front foot nationally and well-placed to mount a credible challenge for power at the next General Election in 2015. The strain felt by the Coalition at national level is likely to get steadily worse, and it may eventually fall apart at the seams.
- Boris’s victory in London has made him the Conservative’s key electoral asset and he will be the favourite to succeed David Cameron as party leader.
- The rejection of directly-elected mayors, whose potential strengths many think were poorly presented by the Government, will ensure a continuation of the present type of local government across most of England’s big cities for the time being, but this could still change in the future.
- Perhaps most interestingly, the SNP’s continued assent in Scotland increases the likelihood that the days of the United Kingdom as presently constituted are numbered, which has major implications for us all.
- Despite the unpopularity of directly-elected mayors, on the 15th November people in England and Wales outside London will be able to elect police and crime commissioners with extensive powers.
- As well as this, under the Localism Act’s neighbourhood planning regulations, town or parish councils, or neighbourhood forums, can forge ahead with creating neighbourhood plans and many are seeking to do just that. The Government’s localism agenda is far from dead.
Mayor of London
- The big ticket contest that all eyes were on was Boris versus Ken in London, with the former’s victory announced late on Friday night.
- Boris’s victory was closer than expected and he eventually prevailed over Ken by a relatively modest three per cent, after he failed to secure an outright majority of first preference votes under London’s voting system. Jenny Jones came in third for the Greens and Brian Paddick finished a disappointing fourth for the Liberal Democrats.
- Nevertheless, Boris’s victory was a very welcome fillip for the Conservatives after a dismal display nationally. It was also a ringing endorsement of powerful ‘Brand Boris’ and a considerable achievement following weeks of successive PR disasters for the Conservatives at the national level and the unhelpful timing of their relatively recent slump in support.
- In short, Boris has become a valuable asset to the Conservatives, whereas Ken, against the odds, became a liability to Labour. Ken has now announced his retirement, while Boris will push on for four more years, unless his head is turned by the prospect of a seat in Parliament before 2015’s General Election. He has ruled this out for now but, as the saying goes, “a week is a long time in politics”!
- Planning and development professionals have a tendency to over-estimate the importance of their core concerns to the Mayor, whose attention is taken up by a vast number of other relentlessly pressing issues (not least London’s economy, transport infrastructure and policing) and whose inbox is piled higher than ever in the Olympic year.
- Boris’s nine point campaign plan did include some interesting pledges however, such as those on greening London’s environment, transforming high streets and ensuring an Olympic legacy of 11,000 new homes. A pledge on Crossrail delivery also inevitably has very hefty Community Infrastructure Levy implications for most new development in Greater London.
- Nevertheless, Boris is faced with some notable challenges, not least improving provision of and access to affordable and social housing, particularly after scrapping Ken’s 50 per cent affordable homes target and opposing his proposal for rent capping.
National Headline Results
- Away from London, Labour was the clear winner. Success can be measured in a variety of ways, but crucially the party demonstrated that its opinion poll lead can be reflected at the ballot box where it matters. Labour increased its share of the national vote to just under 40 per cent and gained control of 32 councils, taking control of key ones; Birmingham, Glasgow and Cardiff included.
- The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats suffered a significant slump in support, with the Conservatives securing just above 30 per cent of the national vote and the Liberal Democrats just above 15 per cent.
Council seats won/lost in England
Liberal Democrat -336
Councils won/lost in England
Liberal Democrat -1
The London Assembly
- All 25 seats were contested, 14 for constituency members and 11 for London-wide members.
- Labour has picked up four seats and now has 12, the Conservatives lost two and now have nine and the Liberal Democrats lost one and now have two. The Greens retained their seat and there is now no other minor party representation.
- Given that the mayor requires a two-thirds majority in the Assembly to pass his budget, Boris will likely be in for a more difficult time in the years ahead. Although the Conservatives have the majority they need to pass the budget, nothing is guaranteed in politics.
Mayoral Referendums and Elections in England’s Largest Cities
- The referendums to determine whether ten of England’s largest cities wanted directly-elected executive mayors were an embarrassing flop for the Government, with Birmingham, Bradford, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield all saying no (Bristol said yes). Most voters seemed uncertain about mayors’ potential powers, sceptical about their value and fearful that they would add yet another layer of bureaucracy.
- Doncaster voted to keep its English Democrat mayor.
- It will be fascinating to see what kind of impact the mayors, particularly those in Liverpool and Bristol, have. Comparisons will readily be drawn between these cities and other large cities that have opted to retain the status quo – Liverpool versus Manchester, for example. Existing arrangements are never set in stone and further changes may follow.
Scottish and Welsh Elections
- All 32 Scottish and 21 Welsh councils held elections. In Scotland Labour managed to halt the SNP’s rise, although both performed well. The Liberal Democrats were humiliated, losing two-thirds of their councillors. In Wales Labour also had a good night, taking ten councils.