A Guide to the Local Elections (Part I) – The Background
On May 3rd, approximately 10,500 council seats (including by-elections) will be contested in England, and another 1,100 in Scotland. In England, 154 District Councils and 25 Unitary Authorities have all-out elections, while the 36 Metropolitan Boroughs, 20 Unitary Authorities, and 77 Districts are electing one third of their seats. The 32 Scottish Authorities have all out elections, although they will change from first past the post, to election by way of the Single Transferable Vote, in three member wards. Due to changes to the law regarding the verification of postal votes, many English authorities, particularly rural ones, will count their votes on the following Friday.
The Conservatives will be defending 4,345 English seats (excluding by-elections) and 127 in Scotland. Labour will be defending 2,375 English seats, and 498 in Scotland. The Liberal Democrats will be defending 2,422 English seats, and 177 in Scotland. Minor parties and independents will be defending 1,229 seats in England and 230 in Scotland. The SNP are defending 190 seats.
According to figures provided by CCHQ, the Conservatives have fielded 9,264 council candidates in England, Labour 6,360 , the Liberal Democrats 6,667, the Greens 1,394 , UKIP 805 , and the BNP 717 . In all likelihood, five or six hundred Conservative councillors have already â€œwonâ€ without a vote being cast, either because they have been returned unopposed, or because they do not face a full slate of opposition candidates in multi-member wards.
Additionally, in a number of rural Conservative seats, the Conservatives face no opposition at all from either Labour or the Lib Dems, but rather from Independents or UKIP candidates. For this reason, the Conservatives have already â€œwonâ€ at least five authorities, Hambleton, East Northants., Rutland, South Northants., and Fenland, and are within striking distance of taking several others, even before May 3rd. Labour have also â€œwonâ€ Easington and Bolsover for the same reason. As yet, I have no information about the number of council candidates fielded in Scotland.
Most seats coming up in District and Unitary Authorities were last contested in 2003. All of the seats coming up in the Metropolitan Boroughs were last fought in 2004 (except for by-elections). In 2003, the BBCâ€™s projected national vote shares were Conservative 35%, Labour 30%, and Lib. Dems. 27%. In 2004, the respective figures were 38%, 26%, and 30%. Last year, the respective figures were 39%, 26%, and 25%. Local by-elections over the past year suggest that the gap between Conservative and Labour has widened slightly since then.
Next week, I shall consider the likely outcome.
There was just one by-election, last night, on Worcestershire County Council, St. Chadâ€™s, which is part of Wyre Forest. Liberal Party 1052, Conservative 672, Independent Health Concern 252, Labour 133. Liberal hold. The Liberal in this case is not a Liberal Democrat, but one of the Liberals who refused to accept the merger with the SDP in 1988. They hold a few dozen council seats up and down the country.
Sean Fear is a London Tory activist