Tory triumph, Labour lamentation
No one starting from scratch would contemplate devising anything like it, but one virtue of Britain’s ever-changing and often confusing patchwork of local government is that it seldom fails to entertain when local elections come around each May.
It also provides political parties with abundant opportunities to spin the overall picture, with greatly varying degrees of credibility. In fact, no amount of doublespeak can disguise the fact the respective party leaders will feel a mix of pride (Theresa May), panic (Jeremy Corbyn), perplexity (Tim Farron) and, in the case of UKIP’s Paul Nuttall, petrification, about this year’s results.
The ‘so what’?
This year’s contests were more significant than usual for a few reasons. Among them, the general election of 8 June is fast approaching and they set the scene for what looks like a large Conservative majority, while clarifying the location of the diminishing pockets of meaningful Labour resistance. Also, the new city-region metro mayors will be a major new feature of the landscape of local government, with the potential to open the door to further, more radical, devolution. Predictions about the longer-term futures of the main political parties (with the possible exception of those about the demise of UKIP), although very tempting, should be treated with extreme caution however.
In England, all county councils and seven unitary authorities were contested (a fraction of the hundreds of local authorities overall), as were all 32 councils in Scotland and all 22 councils in Wales: a total of 4,851 seats. Candidates fought to be elected as metro mayors governing combined authority areas in Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City Region, the Tees Valley, the West of England and the West Midlands.
The winners and whingers
The Conservatives were unquestionably the big winners, picking up 563 seats and control of 11 councils. They also won what were predicted to be the most competitive metro mayor contests, in the West Midlands and the West of England, as well as pulling off a sensational victory in Tees Valley. Overall, they made the largest gains by a party in government in local elections for over 40 years.
Jeremy Corbyn is unquestionably a massive electoral liability and Labour losses of councils across Britain – including in the heartlands of Glasgow, Bridgend and Blaenau Gwent, as well as defeat in the Tees Valley metro mayor contest, just weeks before a general election – are disastrous for the party. Neither the mixed fortunes of the Liberal Democrats and SNP, nor the fact that UKIP performed even worse, will provide solace for Labour.
Time will tell how accurate speculation about post-general election Cabinet and ministerial reshuffles is, including at the Department for Communities and Local Government. Reaction to a delayed and underwhelming (in the eyes of many) Housing White Paper and a clear mandate could well inspire the Prime Minister to chart a bolder course, particularly on housing delivery.
Brexit is set to overshadow almost all government activity, but the forthcoming Queen’s Speech on Monday 19 June should include very interesting new legislation, including for the property industry. The imminent release of general election manifestos will reveal more.
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