Across England, 4,371 council seats were up for election yesterday, mainly on borough or district councils. In some cases, this was a third of the councillors on the local authority, but in many – including in Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, and across London – every single seat was contested. There were also elections for executive mayors in four London boroughs plus Watford, and a new metro mayor for the Sheffield City Region, marking a decisive step in the long-running Yorkshire devolution saga and perhaps another lifeline for the Northern Powerhouse.
- After a long night and day of counting votes, it’s clear that everyone got something that they wanted, but no one got close to everything they wanted.
The Conservatives won the expectation game: having inflated fears that they might lose London strongholds like Kensington & Chelsea, Westminster and Wandsworth, they retained all three and won a majority in Barnet. They won councils from Labour control, and made inroads in places like Bolton, Nuneaton & Bedworth, and Wigan.
- Labour has taken Trafford, the last Manchester council that eluded its grip; performed strongly in London and won councils like Kirklees and Plymouth.
- The Liberal Democrats defended a threat to their majority in Sutton, and seized Richmond from the Conservatives with an impressive swing. More broadly, they showed they are capable of winning back the local support they’ll need if they’re to rebuild the party nationally.
- And yet… the overall picture is clearer still. Neither major party is making up the ground it would need to win a parliamentary majority. The Conservatives will not be able to do this again if they continue to perform as they have in cities like London and Manchester. Labour, on the other hand, cannot win a majority as long as they remain the party of the cities, particularly now that they do not have a solid bloc of Scottish MPs to rely on. If things continue like this, the era of hung parliaments may be with us for a while.
This relatively static picture doesn’t just mean ‘no change’, though. It matters for what it tells the political parties. While the major political parties are both just about managing (as the Prime Minister likes to say) – meeting or almost meeting expectations, but not surpassing them – it is harder for voices for change within each party to make a persuasive case for trying to attract new voters.
It’s too simplistic to say that Labour is becoming the party of Remain and the Conservatives the party of Leave, especially given the deep and enduring rifts within each of them. What we can say is that the Conservatives are doing much better at winning votes in areas that went for Leave in the referendum.
The Prime Minister and her electoral strategists know this, and know that they cannot be seen as being ‘soft’ on Brexit if they are to retain this support.
So these elections matter. Not only do they tell us who will run our town halls for the year or years to come; they could also have a very real influence on the biggest policy and foreign relations issue of our time.
At Redwood Consulting, we’ll continue to keep you informed about the changing political picture can affect your business – if you would like advice on what the elections mean for your site or your business, get in touch.