A closer look at the local elections

A closer look at the local elections

The second of my threads on the forthcoming local elections looks at two southern coastal councils which should be the epitome of rock-solid Conservative territory but this year will be representative of that party’s current electoral strength or frailty.

These are among eight District Councils which normally elect by thirds but which, due to boundary changes, are having all-up elections this year.

Fareham sits between Southampton and Portsmouth. The local council (which also includes part of the Gosport constituency) has been Conservative controlled since 1999 when the Liberal Democrats were ousted.

In 2022, the Conservatives won 45.7% of the vote, the Liberal Democrats 25.7% and Labour won 13.2%. At that election, the Conservatives won two seats from the Fareham Independent Group and having taken a seat from the Liberal Democrats at a by election in October 2022, hold 24 of the 31 seats on the council with the Liberal Democrats on four and Independents holding the other three.

The new Council will have 32 seats based on 16 Wards electing two Councillors each.

In May 2022, the average of the polls had Labour ahead by about seven points, that is now 20 points and the Conservative share has fallen from the mid-30s to the mid-20s with the rise of Reform.

The Conservatives are standing 31 candidates, the Liberal Democrats 25, Labour 22, the Greens 11, Reform 4 and there are 6 Independents, four of whom are in the Titchfield and Titchfield Common seats.

Elsewhere, the overwhelming Conservative win in 2022 belies the fact there are a number of marginal seats and if you have an even number of councillors to elect you are asking for trouble.

The question isn’t whether another party can take control but whether the Conservatives will lose it – my crude analysis offers the possibility of neither with the Conservatives winning 16 seats and the remainder split between the Liberal Democrats, Independents and Labour.

IF Fareham goes NOC or If the Conservatives are no longer the largest party, that will be clear evidence we are in mid-90s electoral territory. Holding the Council with a majority will conversely suggest the Conservative position isn’t as bad as the polls are suggesting, at least locally.

To the other side of Portsmouth sits Havant, the constituency of Alan Mak and one of the few which will be fought on the same boundaries as December 2019 when the Conservative majority was nearly 22,000.

Havant Borough Council has been Conservative controlled since 2002 although for most of the 1990s was NOC. At the third up elections last year, the Conservatives won 39.5% of the vote with Labour on 24.5%, the Liberal Democrats on 20.5% and the Greens on 14.3%.

The Conservatives had enjoyed almost complete dominance on Havant at one point holding 36 of the 38 seats (Labour had the other two) but they lost five of the ten they were defending last year and hold 29 going into this round of elections, Labour hold four, the Liberal Democrats two, the Greens one and one seat (formerly held by an Independent) is vacant.

The new boundaries have reduced the number of councillors to 36 and these will be chosen in 12 three member Wards.

Looking at the 2023 results, I thought there was a real chance of the Conservatives losing control of the council but the fact they are the only party with a full slate of candidates will be a big advantage.

The Liberal Democrats and Greens have each put up 19 candidates, Labour just 15, Reform six and there are a couple of Independents.

I think the Liberal Democrats will win 9 seats at most, Labour five or six, the Greens three which would leave Havant in NOC.

The questions here are whether, with the national polls only slightly worse than last year, we could see a similar profile to 2023 with the Conservatives losing half the seats and whether we will see a determined anti-Conservative sentiment with voters splitting their vote between opposition candidates. If the latter happens, the Conservatives could suffer further losses but my thought currently is the Conservatives will retain control albeit narrowly.

I would also be looking at the vote shares in both Fareham and Havant to see how Reform fare and whether they can translate polling into actual votes. The juxtaposition of Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green shares will be noteworthy but also whether the Conservatives can retain their vote in areas which, were they to be lost, would represent an existential crisis for the party.


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