A preview of 2008â€™s Local Elections (Part I)
Most of the interest on May 1st will focus on the London Mayoralty. Elsewhere, however, there are important local elections taking place. All 36 Metropolitan Boroughs will see one third of their councillors elected. The 22 Welsh Unitary authorities will see all of their councillors come up for election. 4 District councils will have all-out elections, 5 will elect half their councillors, and 71 will elect one third. There are also elections for 4 new â€œshadowâ€ unitary authorities, in Cheshire, Durham, and Northumberland. These authorities will not come into existence until 2009, when the existing County and District councils will be abolished.
In this piece, I shall examine the Metropolitan Boroughs, and then comment on the remaining authorities in future weeks.
Almost all the seats being contested in May were last contested in 2004. In that year, according to Plymouth Universityâ€™s figures, Labour won 33% of the vote in these authorities, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats 26% each, and minor parties and independents, the remaining 15%. These vote shares have remained remarkably constant in 2006, and 2007, and until very recently, I would have expected them to remain roughly the same this year. However, Labourâ€™s recent very sharp slide in the polls, and current economic uncertainty, suggest to me that Labour will slip back, and will suffer a small net loss of seats this year. Looking at the Boroughs in turn:-
Doncaster (with a Labour Mayor, although Labour have fewer than half the seats) , Gateshead, Knowsley, Manchester, Rotherham, Salford, Sandwell, South Tyneside, Sunderland, Tameside, Wigan, Wakefield, and Wolverhampton will remain safe for Labour. The Conservatives will be looking to gain ground in Salford, Sunderland, and Wakefield, the Liberal Democrats, in Gateshead, and Knowsley.
Trafford, Dudley, and Walsall will remain in Conservative hands, and Rochdale, Stockport, and Newcastle upon Tyne, will remain in the hands of the Liberal Democrats. Despite Labourâ€™s strong performance in Liverpool, in 2007, when they finished just 2% behind the Liberal Democrats, across the City, the Liberal Democrats should retain control this year, but could well be vulnerable in 2010.
Birmingham will remain under no overall control, but in all likelihood, the ruling Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition will gain a few seats from Labour. Labour would have had an outside chance of taking Bolton from no overall control, but in the current climate, the best they can realistically hope for is to consolidate their current position as largest party. Bradford will remain under no overall control, with Labour likely to remain as the largest party; likewise Leeds. In both cities, anti-Labour coalitions are in power. No party will gain overall control of Calderdale, although the Liberal Democrats will be hoping to overtake the Conservatives as the largest single party. The Conservatives held outright control from 2000 to 2004, but have been slipping back since. In Solihull, currently under no overall control, the Conservatives will probably remain the largest party, but lose further ground to the Liberal Democrats. Wirral, Kirklees, and Sefton, will stay under no overall control, as they have done for many years. St. Helenâ€™s will continue under no overall control, but the Liberal Democrats will probably become the largest single party.
It is very hard to see the Conservatives retaining overall control of Coventry. Currently, they have a majority of two, and two of the seats they are defending were won comfortably by Labour last year. Labour might have hoped to gain overall control here, but in current circumstances, that seems unlikely. By way of consolation, the Conservatives can expect to win a majority on North Tyneside, although, with a Labour Mayor, Labour will retain control. I would also expect now to see the Conservatives to win overall control of Bury, where currently, they are the largest single party. Oldham, controlled by Labour on the Mayorâ€™s casting vote, will probably be lost to the Liberal Democrats. Sheffield will probably see the Liberal Democrats move to largest single party status and pick up the last Conservative seat in the City. And last, but not least, Barnsley could well be lost by Labour to no overall control, being a borough where independents are now challenging Labour hard.
Last night saw three by-elections:-
London Borough of Havering, Gooshays: BNP 865, Labour 741, Con 489, UKIP 70, National Liberal 62, Lib Dem 52. BNP hold. This ward is typical of the London overspill estates that were once solidly Labour, but have now shifted markedly rightwards. This is the second time in recent months that the BNP have retained an Essex seat in a by-election, this time with an increased vote share. The Conservatives performed poorly, given that they hold the other two seats in the ward.
London Borough of Lambeth,Vassall. Lib. Dem. 1209, Labour 856, Conservative 206, Green 109, English Democrat 8, Independent 7. Liberal Democrat gain from Labour, on a 12% swing. The Liberal Democrats performed badly in Lambeth in 2006,and so will be delighted by their performance in this ward. Quite possibly, the Lambeth/Southwark GLA constituency will now be vulnerable to them in May.
Arun District, Yapton. Conservative 620, Labour 212, BNP 205. An easy Conservative hold, but again, a surprisingly high vote for the BNP.