The other elections coming up in the spring

With so much political attention on the next general election, it’s easy to forget that there are a large number of council seats up for election on the first Thursday in May. Many of those wielding power after the local votes are counted will have far more power than MPs or even junior ministers.

What’s up for election?

It’s a big round of local elections:

  • All the seats in the 32 London boroughs
  • One third of the seats in the 36 Mets
  • One third of the seats in 19 20 unitary authorities
  • Half the seats in 7 district councils
  • One third of the seats in 70 district councils
  • Four Mayors

All the above are in England. By-elections aside, there will be no local elections in Scotland or Wales.

Note: elections in Stoke have been postponed followed the referendum decision to abolish the Mayor/Cabinet system. Elections in Norwich are being postponed as part of local government reorganisation.

UPDATE: Elections in Exeter may also be postponed as part of the Government’s proposals to bring in a unitary authority in 2011.

What’s the political context?

Due to the repeated changes in council structures and boundaries, no round of local elections is quite like another. However, this round is broadly the same as that held in 2006.

As we have not had this year’s round combined with a general election since Labour came to power, it is possible that the higher general election turnout will produce different results. Higher turnout will benefit some parties more than others, and overall higher turnout is good for Labour.

For the Liberal Democrats, although there are some urban campaigners who swear by higher turnout hitting their chances, the overall record is that the party’s share of the vote in local elections is fairly immune to changes in turnout.  2006 was the last year in a five-year streak when the Liberal Democrats gained seats at each round of local elections, even if just +2 in 2006. Since then the party has had two years of losses and one of gains. The party’s estimated national share of the vote has been constant across those years; on the Thrasher and Rallings figures it was 25% in 2006 and then 24%, 23% and 25% last year.

For Labour, the 2010 local elections are looking tough. Their share of the vote in 2006 was 26%, which has slipped via 26% and 24% to just 22% last year. Higher turnout did boost the party’s local election results in 2005 and Labour will be relying heavily on higher turnout to save it from further meltdown this year.

The Conservative share in 2006 was 39%, a figure which an opposition romping home to victory in a general election would not be afraid of besting. But there’s a bit of an if there … and in local council by-elections the party has been a long way off sweeping all before it. Well organised Liberal Democrat council by-election campaigns have often beaten the Conservatives in the last year, particularly in wards that fall within Westminster marginal seats.

You can read more about the prospects in individual councils over in the Local Government Chronicle.

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This entry was posted in Local government.


  • If the LDs get 24-26% this time it will be a huge success.

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