UK local elections minus three weeks

The Conservatives are set to suffer large losses at UK local elections. Also covered: other recent and upcoming elections.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is a paid election analyst for The Conversation. His work for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

UK local government elections will be held on May 2. Owing to COVID, there were no elections in 2020, so the large majority of the seats up were last contested in 2021. At the 2021 local elections, the Conservatives under Boris Johnson had a big win. With national polls now showing a huge Labour lead, the Conservatives are virtually certain to suffer large losses.

Local elections are contested on a four-year cycle, with different wards up every year. Some years are more Conservative-leaning and others Labour-leaning. The BBC’s Projected National Share (PNS) attempts to correct for bias in the particular year. In 2021, the Conservatives won the PNS by 36-29 over Labour with 17% for the Liberal Democrats. In 2023, Labour won by 35-26 with 20% Lib Dems.

The biggest prize at these elections is the London mayoralty. Previously, mayors were elected by preferential voting, but the Conservative government regressed to first-past-the-post. Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan, who is running for a third term, has a large lead over Conservative Susan Hall. These local elections will be the last before the general election, which is likely to be held in late 2024, though it could be delayed until January 2025.

There will also be a parliamentary by-election on May 2 in Conservative-held Blackpool South. Former Conservative MP Scott Benton resigned on March 25, while a six-week petition to recall him after he was suspended from parliament for 35 days was ongoing. The recall petition was to close on April 22, with at least 10% of registered voters needed. The Conservatives gained Blackpool South from Labour at the 2019 election, winning by a 49.6-38.3 margin with 6.1% for the Brexit Party.

Other upcoming elections

The US general election will be held on November 5. I covered the upcoming US and UK elections for The Conversation on March 19. Since this article, Joe Biden’s net approval in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate has improved from -16.8 to -15.4, while Donald Trump’s net favourability has slipped from -9.7 to -10.2. National general election polls are close to even between Trump and Biden, an improvement for Biden. However, Trump is probably advantaged by the Electoral College system.

The Indian election takes place in seven stages, from April 19 to June 1. No interim results will be released, with vote counting set for June 4. The 543 MPs are elected by FPTP. The right-wing alliance of PM Narendra Modi, who is running for a third successive term, has a high-single to double-digit lead in polls.

The European parliament election will be held from June 6-9, with vote counting starting once all countries have finished voting. The 720 seats are elected using proportional representation in each EU country. Far-right parties are expected to make gains.

Recent elections

The 230 Portuguese MPs are elected by PR in multi-member electorates. At the March 10 election, which was held early owing to scandals in the governing Socialists, the conservative AD won 80 seats (up three since the last election in 2022), the centre-left Socialists 78 seats (down 42) and the far-right Chega 50 seats (up 38). The AD has formed a minority government.

The final results for the February 14 Indonesian election have been released. In the presidential election, Prabowa Subianto, who represented an alliance of right-wing and Islamist parties, won 58.6% of the vote, far ahead of his nearest opponent who had 25.0%. By winning a majority, Prabowa avoided a runoff.

In legislative elections, the 580 seats were elected by PR in multi-member electorates with a 4% national threshold. While the centre-left Democratic Party of Struggle won the most seats, it lost 18 seats to fall to 110, while right-wing and Islamist parties all made gains. There’s a clear majority for right-wing and Islamist parties.

Two Irish referendums were held on March 8, and both were heavily defeated. The first referendum proposed to expand the definition of family to include durable relationships outside marriage, and it lost by 67.7-32.3. The second referendum proposed to replace references to women’s “life within the home” with gender-neutral language on supporting care within the family; this lost by 73.9-26.1.  Perhaps as a result of these defeats, Leo Varadkar announced on March 20 that he would resign as Taoiseach (PM).

15 comments on “UK local elections minus three weeks”

  1. RE Indonesia “There’s a clear majority for right-wing and Islamist parties.”
    On my understanding of Indonesian politics, it’s not really easy to group the parties into left and right wing, although it’s probably safe to say all parties in Indonesia would be conservative by Australian standards. I feel like more or less all of the not-explicitly islamist parties are populist/opportunist.

    I’m looking at this graphic

    With the exception of PAN which is explicitly islamist, I think the parties that backed Prabowo (The Indonesia Forward coalition) would definitely be quite populist. The parties that didn’t back him (PDI-P + The Change for Unity coalition) outnumber them, but contain PKS and PKB which are again explicitly Islamist parties.

    If it hasn’t happened already (I’ll look it up later), I’d assume that PKS and PKB would switch to back in Prabowo in hopes of being thrown some scraps. Leaving P-DIP in opposition on its own, or perhaps with Nasdem, which has shown some backbone in the past.

  2. What UK councils are likely to change hands IF the polls are correct? (Or possibly, which Tory councils might be retained..)

    And what do polls say about the B’pool election.

  3. PaulTu

    There’s no polls here in the UK for the Blackpool by-election that I know of, but you can be sure it’s a nailed-on Labour gain by a big majority.

    The exact size of this majority will be of some academic interest, as it’s quite a different seat to most of the ones that have held by-elections the last couple of years.

    Relatively white, working-class seaside area, fairly Brexity. Usually won by the whoever wins the GE, though traditionally would have been more Labour than that (though not excessively so).

  4. UK local elections are likely to be a massacre for the conservatives. The baseball are out for the Tories and the longer they leave the general election the worse it is going to get. Nothing good can come from staying around longer; it is just giving Reform more time to organise.

  5. Saying the UK election could be delayed to January 2025 isn’t quite correct as that implies some shenanigans by the government are required and that’s not the case.

    The latest the election has to be held by is a January 28th which in effect means Thursday 23rd January as a non Thursday election would be unusual even though it’s not a statutory requirement. The last day to call the election is 17th December.

    And the public and party workers would hate that as the campaign period would cross Christmas and New Year as well as not be in a very pleasant time of the year.

    And it would extend the campaign timetable as bank holidays are excluded from the various calculations for working out close of nominations, last day to register and applications for proxy and postal votes.

    My first guess would be June followed by October. Though the former would be in the wake of devastating Tory losses but October would give plenty of time for Tory intriguing to ditch Sunak but still not change the result much.

    As to the local elections to watch the Tory Mayors in the West Midlands and the Tees Valley are both at risk even though the latter won with 73% of the vote in 2021.

    The Greater London Authority Elections might prove interesting but being based on constituency and list members with a PR element there is scope for Tory losses in the former but possibly being ameliorated by the list seats. I see a lot of Tory abstentions.

    But whatever happens in individual wards and councils it will be a devastating night for the Tories.

  6. It’s a given Labour will win Blackpool South.
    I’m very ignorant when it comes to local government in Britain, especially England, I’ll leave that one to greater minds than me.
    However, if the Tories had a night as bad as the 2005 local government elections, when they lost something like 3000 council seats, it’ll be a forerunner to what’s likely to occur in the subsequent general election.

  7. It’s the PNS (projected national share) that the boffins calculate from the council election that counts, not the amount of seats won or lost as the amount (and locations) up for election varies so much from year to year.

    Labour should be absolute minimum 10% ahead of Tories on PNS, who may not be much ahead of Lib Dems (PNS does flatter Lib Dems due to their good local organisation).

    Be interesting to see if Tories can hold onto mayoralty in Tees Valley, I think it’s possible though not predicted, and one of their few hopes due to Ben Houchen’s popularity.

    The only poll for Tees Valley, taken in February, heavily suggested otherwise – but was an unweighted online poll! – with several contradictory findings. The candidates weren’t even named, and even in this poll which said 55% Labour a plurality said their mayor had done a good job.

  8. Chris C

    I don’t think West Midlands mayoralty is up for election this year?

    There is a brand new East Midlands one, however, which Labour will win along with most others.

  9. “LONDON — The right-wing political party set up by U.K. Brexiteer Nigel Farage has apologized after publicly firing one of its election candidates for being “inactive” — when the candidate had in fact died.

    Reform UK admitted it didn’t realize that Tommy Cawkwell, its election candidate in York Central, had perished when he was sacked for lack of activity.

    “We can’t afford to have people doing nothing in an election year,” a party spokesperson had told local news outlet the York Press.”

  10. Just to make people aware that vote counts will take place over a number of day but most local councils will count on the .

    E.g. London Mayor and GLA will be counted on Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th May.

    E.g. Tees Valley Mayor – Friday 4th May

    E.g West Midlands Mayor – Saturday 5th

    E.g Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner – Sunday 5th May

    So it may be a few days for final analysis to be done.

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