All eyes in Westminster on tomorrow’s local elections

For Labour, Tory and Lib Dem staffers, the first Thursday in May means only one thing: Get out the vote. For MPs, councillors and party staffers, there is always an election to be fought somewhere in May, and that means door knocking.

What’s happening?

This year sees 2,600 council seats up for grabs, as well 10 mayoral elections and also Police and Crime Commissioners across England. There are few entire councils up for re-election so local parties will be looking to build on their existing presence by taking over from their opposition or gaining majorities rather than No Overall Control.

In recent weeks we’ve seen the annual tradition of expectation management from the major parties’ HQs. The Tories predict electoral Armageddon in the hope that they can spin some small wins afterwards, and Labour officially predicts steady progress so that if they sweep the board they can welcome a huge boost.

National politicos will be viewing May’s local elections through the prism of the autumn general election and looking for clues as to how theoretical national political strategies hit electoral reality. Unfortunately, a relatively small number of local elections poorly distributed across demographics and geography is a poor indicator of future general election performance – just ask Ed Miliband who was flying in the locals before crashing down to earth at general election time in 2015 – but they can give indicators of trends, messaging and strategies.

Where are the interesting contests to look out for and what do they tell us about the national picture?

Labour wants to see how they are progressing in winning back voters in traditionally red areas like Dudley and Hartlepool. These towns voted Tory in 2019 so Starmer will want to show that national polling is consistent, and that Labour is winning back voters here. He will also want to see how he is doing in key target seats so look out for Milton Keynes and especially Nuneaton as a traditional bellwether seat.

The Liberal Democrats will want to show that their inroads into Tory ‘blue-wall’ areas aren’t just for Parliamentary by-elections so they will be hoping to take control of councils like Wokingham. The Police and Crime Commissioner elections get less ink, but they could be interesting indicators of how well-spread Labour support is and which party is doing best on combating crime, an underpriced and competitive electoral issue.

And there are several interesting Mayoral elections taking place. Whilst Liverpool and Manchester will be walkovers for Labour, there are real fights going on in the West Midlands and Tees Valley. Both major parties have briefed that these are the real battles and if the Tories can keep one then that will ease pressure on Sunak.

Sadiq Khan will hang on in London but you can expect a smaller majority due to a new non-PR electoral system that is unlikely to do him many favours. And look out for the new East Midlands mayoral election where current Tory MP Ben Bradley goes up against former Labour MP Claire Ward.




What happens next?

After Thursday, the votes will be counted and a trickle of results on Friday lunchtime will turn into a stream on Friday evening. The parties will spend the weekend spinning and shaping the national narrative by picking out individual local wins to support their own arguments. With the likelihood of Tory losses, Sunak can expect some disgruntled backbenchers to make unhelpful noises and he will hope that any threats to his leadership quickly burn out.

And for organizations that wish to raise their profile and get their message across, there will be a whole batch of new politicians beginning their new terms who will need information and insight. This is particularly true of the new Metro Mayors who have an under-appreciated amount of power in key policy areas such as transport, skills and economic regeneration.

If you’re interested in raising awareness of your issues with the 2024 class of Mayors, PCCs and councillors, then do get in touch.