A hazy night in English local elections: the key conclusions

Guardian, by Dan Sabbagh
04.05.18

 

Labour failed to dent the Tories, while Lib Dems had a tiny revival and Ukip became irrelevant.

 

Labour made limited progress, but failed to produce the kind of surge that would allow the party to claim it is a government-in-waiting.

The party gained control of Plymouth, winning four seats in the town where Conservative Johnny Mercer is an MP, showing it can do well outside the capital. Denying the Tories overall control in Trafford (by gaining four council seats) was exactly as party sources were predicting. But Labour lost control of Derby, where the Corbyn-supporting Chris Williamson is an MP, a repeat of its disappointing performance in the east Midlands at last year’s general election.

In London, Labour failed to win in Barnet – which would have required a 1.6% swing – because of voter concerns about antisemitism on fringes of the party. In one seat, West Hendon, the party lost three seats to the Conservatives, who gained 10 percentage points. Labour did not win Wandsworth or Westminster either. They would have taken significant swings of 7.5% and 8.8% respectively but expectations were running high. In Wandsworth, for so long a flagship Tory borough, Labour can be pleased to have gained seven seats but the party needed at least three more to deny their opponents control of a council they have run since 1974.

Theresa May can be modestly relieved, although the results do not necessarily point to her party winning an overall Westminster majority either.

John Curtice, the pollster with Strathclyde University, said there was a swing of 1% to the Conservatives from Labour outside London, roughly reversing the swing away in the capital. The party gained control of Basildon, winning five seats, helped by the collapse of Ukip which lost all five seats it was contesting. In Peterborough, a single seat gain gave the party overall control. Despite the loss of seats in Wandsworth and Westminster, the party comfortably held onto Hillingdon where local MP John McDonnell had campaigned, but Brexit weighed heavily with the Liberal Democrats gaining Richmond, in south-west London, where 69% voted remain.

The Lib Dems enjoyed the smallest of revivals but the party remains far off the vote share it enjoyed before it entered the coalition government.

In Richmond the party swept home, gaining 22 seats to take overall control, helped by a pact with the Greens which saw that party gain four. The Tories lost 32 in a borough where Zac Goldsmith was again elected as a Conservative MP in 2017. The Lib Dems held on to neighbouring Sutton council despite a Conservative charge, and Eastleigh on the south coast, but elsewhere Vince Cable’s party showed no signs of enjoying the sort of recovery that would see it turn into a force at Westminster.

Ukip is collapsing into irrelevance, and the early signs were the that Tories were doing better in scooping up their votes.

Four years ago the party won 17% share of the vote in the local elections (and more in European elections contested the same night) but by 6am it had won only two seats, and lost 35. Its loss of seats in Basildon benefited the Tories, while an unlikely gain it made in Derby was from Labour, where the party’s leader was unseated as Labour lost overall control there. Jonathan Carr-West, the chief executive of the Local Government Information Unit, said: “We seem to be seeing an entrenchment of the status quo; a divided Britain in which big cities vote Labour and everywhere else votes Conservative.”