UK local elections deliver flat result

In the first major electoral test in the UK since Labour stormed back to cost the Conservatives their majority in June 2017, the major parties were tied. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, whose work you may be familiar with from The Conversation. Adrian who will be dropping by from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally.

At the June 2017 UK general election, a dramatic late poll surge to Labour cost the Conservatives their Commons majority. Local government elections held on Thursday were the first major UK election since then. Every May, UK local government elections are held, but particular council wards are usually contested every four years. Thus, the wards up for election last Thursday were last contested in 2014.

This year, all 150 councils that held elections were in England; there were no local elections in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. About 40% of councillors up for election were in London. London’s boroughs held elections for all their seats, while most other councils held elections for one-third of their seats.

The most important result from the local elections is the national projected vote share. This is an estimate of vote share the various parties would have won if local elections were held all over the UK, as in a general election. In 2014, when these seats were last contested, Labour had a projected vote share of 31%, the Conservatives 29%, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) 17% and the Liberal Democrats 13%.

At the May 2017 local elections, the Conservatives thumped Labour 38% to 27% with 18% for the Liberal Democrats. These elections were held before Labour’s surge began. At the June 2017 general election, the Conservatives beat Labour by just 42.4% to 40.0% in popular votes.

This year, the BBC’s projected national vote share gives the Conservatives and Labour 35% each, with 16% for the Liberal Democrats. This represents a 1% two party swing to the Conservatives since 2014, but a 1% swing to Labour from the 2017 general election. Opposition parties have usually performed better in local elections than general elections, so this result is disappointing for Labour.

National polls currently have the Conservatives a few points ahead of Labour, so the local elections are consistent with that polling. The Liberal Democrats, who historically do better at local than general elections, have less than 10% in national polls, but won 16% in the local elections.

Labour won 2,310 councillors (up 59 since 2014), the Conservatives 1,330 (down 31), the Liberal Democrats 536 (up 75) and the Greens 39 (up eight). The biggest loser was UKIP, which won just three councillors (down 123). Most wards contested this year were in Labour-favouring areas.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

31 comments on “UK local elections deliver flat result”

  1. This article is a serious statistical antidote to the Corbyn fanbois infesting the Greens.

    Corbyn is absolutely absent on the main issue confronting Britain: Brexit.

  2. It is an impressive achievement to take a broken Labour party and put it in an election-winning position. Jeremy Corbyn deserves immense credit for standing up to the traitors within his party and making so much progress in earning back the public’s trust that was so recklessly squandered by the Third Way crowd.

  3. Boerwar is under the illusion that repeating the same point ad nauseam increases its veracity, when in fact it does the eaxact opposite.

    Great post btw.

  4. This thread is mis-titled it is the English local government elections not the UK ones.

    It is like calling the NSW local elections the Australian local elections.

  5. ‘Nicholas says:
    Saturday, May 5, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    It is an impressive achievement to take a broken Labour party and put it in an election-winning position. Jeremy Corbyn deserves immense credit for standing up to the traitors within his party and making so much progress in earning back the public’s trust that was so recklessly squandered by the Third Way crowd.’

    Corbyn’s great gift to the UK might have been to lead a firm opposition to Brexit. The reasons should have been clear: Brexit was dominated by racism, xenophobia, and was against internationalism, infused with crappy nationalism, and was to the direct benefit of the British Big End of Town who were against EU worker rights, EU support for human rights, and against EU environmentalism.

    Further, the Brexiteers routinely lied their arses off in terms of the benefits to ordinary British people. The poxy liars even fantasized that the Empire was going to be resuscitated by way of a glorious new role for Britain in a brand new British Trading Commonwealth. Any real leader would have known that the British hope for a series of beneficial unilateral trade agreements were going to be stymied by the EU, by racketeers like Trump, by protectionists like Xi and by despots like Putin. The UK has gone from being influential as a leader within Europe to an offshore island with declining prospects.

    The immediate results: a massive increase in sovereign risk premiums in any British investment, capital strike, welfare cuts, capital transfers from Treasury to the Big End of Town, COL increases as the value of the pound plummets, transfers of EU functions out of London, and a growth rate less than half of the EU average. The long term results: jobs, HQs, factories heading to the EU.

    The spineless do-nothing, fence straddling coward just sort of half-heartedly went with the flow.

    Glorifying Corbyn in this context is ludicrous.

  6. @Boerwar

    Corbyn was quite astute in my opinion in not actively opposing Brexit. Because the highest levels for Brexit in England (which comprises 55 million out 65.5 million for the UK population) of were in the Labour strongholds in the industrial cities of the Midlands and the North.

  7. Jay
    It is not ‘astute’ to sit on your arse while the right winger haters try to sink Europe in a new mire of racism, xenophobia and economic hocus pocus which will damage ordinary people, the environment and human rights.

  8. Corbyn is ideologically driven to repeat Venezuela.

    It will certainly ‘solve’ the UK’s refugee ‘crisis’

    Brits will be scrambling to get back into the EU.

  9. Corbyn’s great gift to the UK might have been to lead a firm opposition to Brexit.

    For decades the mainstream position of the UK Labour Party was a healthy skepticism of the EU. They believed, correctly as it turned out, that the EU would evolve into a monetarist / neoliberal institution whose main object would be to prevent national governments from enacting socialist policies, and to redistribute income from workers to capital. The EU’s current rules on competition policy and public procurement would, had they been in effect in the 1940s, have prevented the Attlee Government from establishing the NHS. Policy options such as re-nationalising infrastructure and banks are much more complicated to do now because of neoliberal EU rules. Getting out of the EU is the correct move because it enables national governments to access a wider range of policy options for reducing inequality of wealth and income and improving the quality and accessibility of public services and infrastructure. National governments need maximum policy space to enhance the wellbeing of their citizens. The EU has become a major obstacle to fulfilling that basic duty of government.

    It is not progressive to want to stay in the EU. Whatever good EU rules exist – in the field of environmental protection, for instance – can be enacted by national legislation. It is not necessary to be part of the EU to have strong environmental protections.

    Nor is it necessary to be a member nation of the EU in order to be a cosmopolitan and outward-looking society. A nation can be outside of the EU and be very welcoming, peaceful, and culturally diverse.

    It is a result of group think that membership of the EU has become a means of signalling virtue and establishing in-group and out-group dynamics in relation to who is a racist and who is not. Whether a nation is a member of the EU, which is an institution that reflects and enforces bad economic policy, has no bearing on the degree of racism in a nation. It is dumb to conflate EU membership with cosmopolitanism and to conflate national sovereignty with racism.

    Defending the EU, an organisation with a terrible record on economic policy, is foolish, shallow, and more about identity politics than anything else. It is a shame that many people who profess to be politically on the left believe that they must excuse and defend this failed organisation in order to establish their non-racist credentials. Human psychology involves blind spots and logical fallacies and group think, and the Remainers are an object lesson on this fact.

  10. After the baseless smear campaign that the Murdoch media and the malcontents in his own party waged against Corbyn before these elections, this result is a welcome up yours! to all of them.

  11. The EU has delivered two generations of peace. There has never been a superior mechanism for resolving intra-european tensions. Never. The half century before the EU existed claimed around a hundred million lives and literally flattened europe. Twice. The cost of this was stupendously more than anything that anyone can dream of in relation to one or other economic ‘system’ being superior.

    The British have put this at severe and immediate risk.

    Never have so many europeans been so prosperous. Never. All Brits now have running hot and cold water and homes that are heated in winter. All Brits now have toilets that are inside and that flush. Brits now have access to diets that they could only dream of before the EU when the poorer third of Brits were literally raised as rickets-beset runts, stunted by malnutrition, a lack of variety in their diets and a lack of enough calories. Never have so many Brits had access to tertiary education.

    Before the advent of EU labour laws, whole British industies full of workers were systematically destroyed: the coal industry, the print industry, etc.

    All Brits now have access to universal health. All Brits are protected by EU regulations on product quality. All Brits can now swim in their beaches without bumping into rafts of turds which they were free to enjoy EU environmental regulations. None of these conditions obtained before the EU.

    Never have all europeans, including Brits, been so well covered by social protections in health, education and human rights.

    By virtue of acting as the global capital raising, insurance and clearing house for the whole of the EU, the Brits creamed vast flows of capital. So much so that the City paid 65 billion pounds a year into Treasury. That 65 billion pounds will go out of Britain, along with the 100,000 high paid jobs that go with it. That is 65 billion pounds less of hospitals, schools and social housing. Per year.

    This is immediately imperilled by May and Corbyn.

    All that is at grievous risk.

    And for what?

    On the promises of the hard right racist xenphobes and the looney left economic ideologues who think that Venezuela is somehow an accident rather than a tragic result of Left idiot experiments.

    Will the lot of ordinary British people will improve as a direct result of Brexit? How? Investment is already moving offshore. Top end jobs, ditto. New trade agreements negotiated from a position of extreme weakness? To what end, except to screw the workers.

    Britain will move from being an influential player in a United Europe to a pygmy in world affairs. Its economic clout will be miniscule in the face of the trading giants of the EU, the US, China and Japan.

    Ideological charlatans abound. As for ‘virtue signalling’, since when has the Hard Left had to pick up the scabby snarks of the idiot Right to make a point? Why not at least create your own inane stupidities?

  12. @Boerwar
    It is not ‘astute’ to sit on your arse while the right winger haters try to sink Europe in a new mire of racism, xenophobia and economic hocus pocus which will damage ordinary people, the environment and human rights.

    A lot of British people voted to leave the European Union, because they wanted control over their borders and decide who entered Britain or not. That is a virtual impossibility under the schengen agreement. Also Britain is one of the top countries for the millions of “asylum seekers” to go to, who have entered Europe in the last several years. For example; between Jan 2015 and October 2016 there are thousands of people in a camp in Calais, which was called The Jungle trying to get into Britain.

    I would argue these “asylum seekers” are mostly economic migrants who go to countries with the most generous policies towards admitting them.

  13. ‘A lot of British people voted to leave the European Union, because they wanted control over their borders and decide who entered Britain or not. That is a virtual impossibility under the schengen agreement. Also Britain is one of the top countries for the millions of “asylum seekers” who entered Europe in the last several years. For example; between Jan 2015 and October 2016 there are thousands of people in a camp in Calais, which was called The Jungle trying to get into Britain.

    I would argue these “asylum seekers” are mostly economic migrants who go to countries with the most generous policies towards admitting them.’

    Sure. Part of the argument of the Brexiteers was that every year around four million people used to enter the UK every year to steal ‘British’ jobs. What it actually means is to do the dirty work that the Brits no longer want to do for low enough wages. Fair enough? This is already falling away. The sole reason is that the foreign workers have social media. And they are sending back messages that racist violence has become commonplace validated by Brexit.

    As for the Brits starting to do their own dirty harvesting work, I just have to laugh. I used to do that sort of dirty work: rural labour. You start in the dark. You stop in the dark. It is pain filled, monotonous, hot, cold, wet, frosty. Whatever. It always has the worst hours, the worst pay, the most uncertain hours, and the worst working conditions of all labour.

    This is something that the Brexiteers and the Left ideologues did not bother anyone’s head about. Sure you can double the wage rate, enforce good conditions and so on and so forth. That would probably add a third to the price of food at a time when the value of the pound is already starting to have inflationary impacts on the basics.

  14. Why is that every time BoerWar and Briefly post, all I can think of is Bob Santamaria and his right wing ranting on Point of View just before World Championship wrestling and just after Epic Theatre on Channel Nine. I thought all that Grouper rubbish had been consigned to the rubbish bin of history, along with Epic Theatre et al.

  15. The EU, as an institution with a democratically elected Parliament, represents the best hope for powerful democratic government in Europe.

    It does need some executive democratisation in the form of the EU Parliament choosing the EU executive, representing the majority parties/coalitions rather than the current spectrum-wide never much change system, to serve at the Parliament`s pleasure, with EU-wide campaigns, parties and coalitions able to get a genuine popular mandate.

    Its overly hostile attitude to government intervention in the economy, which is the cause of much of the left-wing euroscepticism, does need reforming.

    The EU also needs to move towards EU-wide industrial bargaining, with national top-ups, to raise wages across the EU by being a proper single labour market rather than a competition of labour markets.

  16. Attlee the man who got the NHS through, and a host of other great socialist reforms, yet Bore War hates him. Says it all about his right wing Grouper credentials doesn’t it. You clearly know nothing about British politics mate. You should read Citizen Clem a recent biography of Britain’s greatest PM where the writer makes it very clear that Attlee and Corbyn are nothing alike. Another epic fail from you once again I’m afraid. Still, you have your other Grouper mate Briefly’s shoulder to cry on.

  17. Some of the geniuses on here who say Labour should have opposed totally the Brexit process from the beginning never explain how this might have affected the level of support for Labour, particularly in the 2017 election.

    Outside of London, pretty much every single strong/lean Labour area voted overwhelmingly to leave, for example Rotherham in South Yorkshire where I live voted 68% to leave, as did Barnsley and Doncaster next door. The analysis I have seen suggests 1/3rd of Labour voters voted to Leave.

    If Labour had have turned round and said to those voters “Sorry, no Brexit for you” support for Labour would have completely collapsed.

    I suspect Mrs.May would have easily got her 100+ seat majority last year and Labour would be out for who knows how long.

    In the General Election last year my constituency re-elected it’s Labour MP with the highest Labour vote (65%) in the constituency since 1997 although there was still a swing to the Tories as UKIP collapsed. In my opinion this result would have been inconceivable had our MP set himself against the Referendum result.

    Labour gained seats in the locals next door in Barnsley this week, that wouldn’t be happening either.

    Like it or not a substantial cohort of Labour voters still want Brexit, luckily most are staying with Labour at the moment – the ones who are not (and are voting Tory at least until they get Brexit) are the ones that don’t trust Labour on Brexit.

    The numbers vary by region of course and South Yorkshire can stand a small swing to the Tories without losing seats, but the post-industrial North Midlands (Dudley, Stoke, Nuneaton, Mansfield et al) swinging low to the Tories was fatal in the election last year and kept Mrs.May in Downing Street *.

    *The six Labour losses to the Tories plus 2 or 3 missed pickups that should have gone on the UNS, look ’em up on Wiki and do the House of Commons maths if they had stayed Labour.

    In my opinion these Labour voters won’t turn against Brexit until it happens and turns into the s*!t show I expect it to be.

    Boerwar, most of your arguments against Brexit are completely sound but the Brexit-voters aren’t listening. Their minds are made up and closed.

    However, your idea that the EU Employment Laws in the UK now would have stopped Thatcher closing the pits and Fleet Street is risible

    As a final thought experiment, imagine if the Coalition in Australia had a referendum on offshore detention and 30 rock-solid Labor seats voted overwhelmingly to keep it. How would it go for Bill Shorten if he then said it’s going anyway if the ALP take power ?

    Signed, non-Corbyn voting Labour Remainer

  18. RAu

    ‘Boerwar, most of your arguments against Brexit are completely sound but the Brexit-voters aren’t listening. Their minds are made up and closed.’

    And this exactly encapsulates Corbyn’s failure of leadership.

  19. Boerwar

    Sometime you must give the full list of everything in the world that Corbyn is responsible for

    Now please explain why Labour voters were voting UKIP in droves in the time period before Corbyn even became Labour leader

    UKIP didn’t just appear out of thin air in 2015 – they topped the poll in the European Elections in 2014 for example (they won nearly half the seats on Rotherham council that year as well – I remind you that Rotherham is a Labour fortress in the old ‘Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire’)

    It would be as ridiculous as blaming ALP leaders for Labor types voting for Pauline Hanson

    I notice also you’ve completely dodged the question of what would have happened in the polls to the level of Labour support between 2015-17 had Labour acted as you suggest. How about having a go at answering a direct question for a change ?

    As I see it there’s a miniscule chance of stopping Brexit – IF the May government were to fall due to inter-Tory/DUP fall outs over the final deal AND were then replaced by a Lab/SNP/LDem coalition it MIGHT be possible to sell a second referendum to the voters

    However if May was sitting in the Commons with a 150-seat/hard-Brexit majority (and she would be had Corbyn acted as you say he should) that miniscule chance drops to zero

  20. Ray

    IMO, you make good points and reasonable and relevant observations. I take your points about political costs of leadership.

    My main point is, however, a higher order issue: the future of Europe and the future of Great Britain. I have studied european history for nigh on six decades and it the thing that strikes me most is the utter ignorance/indifference about the way in which Brexit is playing with potentially huge fires that will have massive negative impacts on the citizens of Britain.

    Brexit is not a fringe issue.
    My point is quite clear: Corbyn has not shown strong leadership here.

    The consequence is that he has essentially dealt himself out of the public debate on the single most important issue facing Great Britain and therefore Europe.

    My main point is that this is Corbyn’s major leadership FAIL.

    I acknowledge that you are right about the EU and the impact of British workers in the coal and print industries.

    Finally you make what is essentially a crucial political observation: the political cost/reward of leading. In relation to both asylum seekers in Australia and Brexit in Britain, we will never know what would have happened had either Shorten or Corbyn showed real political leadership.

    IMO and FWIW, Australia is moving towards a tipping point on this issue. Public acceptance of what is happening on Manus and Nauru is slipping.

    Similarly, as the costs and implications of Brexit become better known (and this is hampered by the fact that the Tories vacillate from day to day on what Brexit might actually look like) support for Brexit will also slip.

    As for the ‘democratic’ argument, the basic premise: that somehow a nation can be 100% democratic and a 100% sovereign power is a complete chimera. In today’s world, if you want to trade, if you want capital, ideas, goods, skills and labour to flow freely, if you want to support human rights, if you want international influence, if you want social justice at home and abroad then you have to accept that there will be compromises.

  21. Boerwar

    I can’t argue with much of what you say, a Brexit ‘debate’ dominated by indifference/wilful ignorance/deceit as you say. I think it’ll be a disaster and we’ll be back in inside 10 years.

    But here’s the thing – a lot of Brits are absolute suckers for the good old days of Empire/Bobbies on bicycles and all that malarkey. They’re suckers for right-wing rabble rousers as well back to Powell and through up to Farage. Not to mention sticking one on Johnny Foreigner.

    As soon as the polls got close (less than 10%) in the run-up I thought ‘OUT’ would carry the day, and I predicted to my UKIPer neighbour on the day that he would be smiling a few hours after the polls had closed.

    We’re not going to agree on Corbyn or on tactics and whether things could have been different.

    All I’ll say is this, in the aftermath of the vote I thought there was a very real chance of the Labour party disappearing as a viable force and being routed in our Northern heartlands.

    Purely by chance our Constituency Labour Party meeting was on the Friday after the vote, I can’t begin to describe the despair amongst most of those there. On the other hand there was a significant number of delegates who represented the 2-in-3 Rotherham folk who’d voted to leave, they were both happy that Brexit had passed and full of warnings about what would happen electorally if the Labour party set it’s face against the result.

    I think the path the leadership took subsequently (and that wasn’t just the leader, our local MP who didn’t support Corbyn for leadership was adamant we had to support Article 50 in the Commons and not stand in the way of Brexit) has ‘saved’ the party frankly.

    I actually think Theresa May was hoping Labour would vote against Art50 in March ’17, she would have then called a snap election even sooner and I think Labour would have been buried as a large swath of our voters would have deserted us.

    Also, I’ve been unnecessarily sharp in the last few days for which I apologise

  22. @Equal or not

    “This thread is mis-titled it is the English local government elections not the UK ones.

    It is like calling the NSW local elections the Australian local elections.”

    This is incorrect.

    England does not have a government. Therefore, it can’t have local government elections.

    Governments exist in: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

    These were UK(oGB&NI) elections for about 20% of local seats.

    These 20% of seats happened to all be within a certain geographic area that people refer to as England.

    That doesn’t make them English elections.

  23. England is a legally defined country within the UK and anything happening only in England can be described as English.

  24. @Tom

    The UK local government has elections every year, but only about 1/4 of seats are up for election at any one time.

    So in 2018, there were UK local elections, in England only.
    In 2017, there were UK local elections in England, Scotland and Wales
    In 2016 there were UK local elections in England
    In 2015, there were UK local elections in England and Ireland.

    They’re all still UK local elections. Referring to these 4 as England, Great Britain, England, and England + Ireland is confusing, more than it is helpful.

    Imagine if all the federal electorates in Sydney were up for election at a different day to the rest of the country. They’re still federal elections, not Sydney elections.

    England does not have a government, or a parliament. It cannot have elections.

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