Professor Michael Thrasher introduces The Elections Centre

Professor Michael Thrasher introduces The Elections Centre

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When Rallings and Thrasher established the Elections Centre in the early 1980s the principal aim was to collect and publish local election results in the same way that F.W.S. Craig was covering the parliamentary equivalent. In establishing the website,, the aim is to provide easier access for a wide variety of users to the huge amount of data compiled over the intervening years.

Many readers of Political Betting will already be acquainted with the site but a glimpse of future plans can be had from visiting the new interactive pages relating to council political compositions.

The current party political composition of most councils is generally available on their own websites although in many cases it takes a bit of finding. There are also individual data-gatherers that have consolidated these, meaning that listings for particular years are available. Some months ago we took the process a stage further and posted files that enabled users to examine for each year since 1973 (1964 in the case of the London boroughs) the full range of councils across post-reorganisation Britain.

This approach was useful if users were interested in what happened in year ‘x’ but was a bit tiresome if the interest was primarily in council ‘y’ and how its political control had altered over time. It also required a knowledge of spreadsheets which is far from ideal.

Now, we are introducing interactivity (hats off to Robert Merrison-Hort for assistance) on to the website. By clicking on the link the user can simply type in the council name and then see its full council history presented from its origin year to the present.

Because the file that supplies the data is currently about 21,000 rows long (hard-core fans can download the entire file) it takes a little time to load and to have the results displayed. Because the application also searches by text it will provide multiple councils if the user simply inputs words like ‘south’ or ‘shire’ for example. But by the same token it will only find Barking & Dagenham if ‘bark’ is typed.

Data are organised into columns – authority name, year, council (total number of seats) and then the seats won by the various parties are shown. The final column states the type of control, including NOC for no overall control. We are strict about whether a council is majority run or not – only if a single party has more than half the seats. While hardliners prefer to include the ‘mayor’s casting vote there is no possibility of knowing this for all councils over a half century or longer. For the same reason our files do not allow for occasions when councillors are elected for one party only to defect to another or to sit as independent. Even with those caveats in place there is still scope for differences between our file and the information published elsewhere but nothing is perfect.

The selection of parties may upset purists. Additional to Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat (including all other predecessors but now excluding current Liberals) and Nationalists (SNP and Plaid Cymru) there is the ubiquitous ‘Others’. More than anyone we know that local government has its Independents and a whole raft of smaller parties but this is time series, big picture stuff. The alternative was to have many more columns to display.

Because the data are organised by columns this provides the user with possibilities other than simply listing a particular council’s composition. So, if someone inputs ‘2015’ only council compositions for that year appear. If ‘2015 NOC’ is typed then only councils currently under no overall control in 2015 are displayed, while the text ‘Ply Lab’ would only display a list of the years when Labour had majority control of Plymouth.

It is also possible to sort the data in each column. This is particularly useful if there is a desire to know the best (or worst) year for any party.

This is our first venture in making the data available interactively but we hope that it attracts interest not only from election watchers but also from a wider public. Feedback and suggestions for other data presentations can be sent to but we’d like users to subscribe so news about up-dates can be sent automatically.

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