Ahead of the May local elections Prof Michael Thrasher on the resources of The Elections Centre

Ahead of the May local elections Prof Michael Thrasher on the resources of The Elections Centre


Several recent up-dates and have been made to the Elections Centre website that should interest followers of Politicalbetting as we approach what appear to be an intriguing set of May local elections. The website also has two important additions – a new section covering council by-elections and another that hopefully will push the local elections database beyond the million candidate mark.

The councils compositions calculator now covers the position up to and including last May’s local elections. There are other websites that track recent changes, particularly useful when councillors switch party allegiance or vacancies arise, but no-one else as far as we know lets users look at each council’s composition over time. In the case of the London boroughs, of course, the starting year is 1964. Another modification is that the data are now arranged in descending rather than ascending year order, figuring that most people want to focus on recent electoral history. Summary data from both the 2016 and 2017 May local elections have been added to what we refer to as ‘theme’ and ‘year’ tables. Those familiar with the Local Election Handbook will know that these tables replicate the summary information contained in that series. So, those looking for data on turnout, contestation, the fate of incumbents, numbers of women standing and elected, for example, then the themed tables would be the place to start:

Alternatively, if the user wants to view the overall picture or examine each party’s performance in specific authorities then the year tables are more useful. So, with one eye on May 3 people may want to note how the parties fared in the 2014 equivalent local elections, the proportion of seats contested last time compared with this and the likely efficiency of each party’s votes to seats conversion. Of interest will be party shares of votes and seats for each council. The parties of interest are Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green, UKIP, Independents and Others. In the case of Wales, Plaid Cymru is added.

We’ve been covering council by-elections since the early 1980s. In the early days, there were very few published sources for these data but that has changed markedly over the past decade. Some websites specialise in alerting everyone to new vacancies and impending by-elections while others provide invaluable background information about each contest. Another group of sites provide details of each result, whether the seat represents a gain/loss and in some cases the change in vote share since the last May election. A frustration for us has been that sites often overlook the percentage turnout of voters and/or the ward electorate. Most (though still not all!!) council websites contain these figures but finding the relevant page is sometimes a challenge.

Our frustration is now over, it appears. One of the growing legion of election enthusiasts is now sharing his extensive by-election data with us . The data include by-elections from the beginning of each May (i.e. coincident with the main May elections) through to the following April. The series, thus far, begins in 2015-16. The most recent file covers the period since May 2017 but please don’t expect up-dates to occur on the Friday morning following the latest batch of Thursday contests.

The huge merit in these new files is that the author includes not only the electorate and turnout data but a wealth of hitherto difficult to extract information. For each by-election there is also a list of the candidates, the name of the previous incumbent and the cause of the vacancy. Useful summary sheets provide an overview of seat gains and losses, the results in chronological order as well as breakdowns by type of authority (London, metropolitan boroughs etc) and country/region.

Please leave feedback via email on the website if you like this new development or have suggestions for ways in which it might be presented differently.

Our own data on by-elections (more than ten thousand results and counting) covers a much longer period but we have never recorded details of the candidates standing, only the parties represented on the ballot paper. Nevertheless, depositing these data online is something that we’ve discussed and in principle agreed to do. Watch this space, therefore.

Finally, a new development for a long-term project. The British Local Elections Database, available at the data archive at Essex University, contains results for council seats from the late nineteenth century onwards. At the last count the database contains details for over nine hundred thousand candidates that have stood for local election over the past 130 years. Although the data include all elections held since the 1973 reorganisation the period 1945-1972 is patchy and is largely restricted to the former county boroughs.

However, Alan Willis has been busy rummaging through the local newspaper archives that have recently become available online. He has compiled a series of 27 spreadsheets (no elections held in 1948) for the more than three hundred non-county boroughs, ranging alphabetically from Abergavenny to Yeovil . For some authorities the information is reasonably good but for others it is not. We are appealing for assistance in building the data coverage. So, for those who might have newspaper clippings stored in the attic or know of alternative online sources for some of the missing data then look at the current data and get in touch. Help us past the one million candidate mark!

Michael Thrasher



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