Thursday matters. Clearly it matters to the thousands of candidates up and down the country. Win, and their lives change. Lose and they go back to their normal lives. But it’s not through the prism of local candidates that we will judge these elections, it’s through the prism of national politics that we will judge the results. In reality, though, there will be few immediate consequences given that normal service will not be resumed until June 24th, the day after the EU referendum.
There are local elections in England with 2260 seats up for grabs in 128 local councils. In addition to the London mayoral and Greater London Assembly elections there are elections to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly. There are also mayoral elections in Liverpool. Bristol and Salford. Of the 128 local councils 58 are Labour controlled, 42 have a Conservative majority, three are led by the Liberal Democrats, and 25 are under no overall control.
In any normal year, we would all expect Labour to gain several hundred local council seats. It’s mid term and an opposition party worth its salt would be looking to gain seats, especially when a prime minister has been in office for six years. Officially, Labour is playing down expectations and points to the fact that the last time these seats were fought they gained hundreds of seats and it was a high watermark for them. Despite that, various Labour MPs have said that they ought to gain seats on Thursday. Instead, all the talk is how many they will lose.Labour hasn’t lost seats when in opposition since 1985, so if that does indeed turn out to be the eventual result, it will have been a very bad day in the English local elections. It will give encouragement to those who want to initiate a leadership challenge. A lot may depend on turnout. My suspicion is that it will be even lower than usual in the council elections outside London, with many Labour voters simply staying at home.
So what of the other parties? I expect UKIP to make further gains and build its local government base beyond 500 councillors. At the moment it has 490 councillors in Great Britain. A good night for UKIP would mean winning at least another 150 councillors. It will be interesting to see how many of these gains are from Labour, especially in the north.
The Liberal Democrats are defending 330 council seats, a quarter of their total number of 1181 councillors. They have been doing well in local government by-elections and seem confident of not only holding most of their seats but making gains. They will regard any advance on 330 as a breakthrough and the start of their comeback.
So if Labour loses seats it seems inevitable that the Conservatives will be making gains, which in the sixth year of a Tory government would be quite an astonishing achievement. Tory source are playing down expectations, but it would be a major surprise if they weren’t celebrating gains rather than mourning losses on Friday morning. Watch for the number of councils which change hands. It is not unreasonable to predict that at least 8 of Labour’s 58 councils will see the party lose control.
Good night – more than 100 gains
Average night – 50 losses
Bad night – more than 100 losses
Good night – 200 gains
Average night – 100 gains
Bad night – Net losses
Good night – Net gains
Average night – Status quo
Bad night – Net losses
Good night – More than 100 gains
Average night – 50 gains
Bad night – Status quo
The London mayoral election may be a lot closer than the opinion polls suggest. Sadiq Khan has run a good campaign and has a a good ground operation. Getting out the Labour vote may be the key for him. Last time there was a 38% turnout but there were two celebrity candidates in Boris and Ken. This time there are two candidates with similar policies and their campaigns haven’t really sparked to life. One wonders if the whole election might have passed people by, so the turnout could be as low as 30%. This would undoubtedly benefit the Conservatives. Their campaign has mirrored the general election campaign and has largely been conducted under the radar. Painting Sadiq Khan as the extremists’ friend may have gone way over the top, but could it have been crucial in encouraging weak Labour voters to stay at home? The recent anti-semitism troubles won’t have helped Labour in London, even though Sadiq Khan came out early to remove Ken Livingstone from the party. However, Zac Goldsmith can only win on second preferences, and it is difficult to see how his second preferences can outperform Saiq’s. In 2012 Boris’s second preferences were far lower than predicted and he only just squeaked home.
The Greater London Assembly elections are very difficult to predict. Currently the lineup is as follows: Labour 12, Conservative 9, Green 2, LibDem 2. It’s likely UKIp will re-enter the Assembly with one or two seats. The LibDems will be pleased to hold onto their two seats but will be targeting a third. Will the antisemitism scandal hit Labour? Could depressed turnout hit Labour?
I expect a narrow Sadiq Khan victory, much narrower than everyone expects. But I do not rule out a Goldsmith surprise. That may appear to be having my cake and eating it, but I don’t think this result is as clearcut as some believe.
In the GLA I predict Labour will get 11-13 seats, the Conservatives 9-11, LibDem 2-3, UKIP 1-2, Green 2-3.
In Scotland it is quite clear that the SNP will retain power. They have 69 seats, Labour 37, Conservative 15, LibDems 5, Greens 2 and there is 1 Independent.
UKIP is looking to make a breakthrough and gain representation at Holyrood for the first time. The big story will be if the Conservatives can beat Labour into second place in terms of either vote share or seats. The SNP is polling consistently above 50% for the constituency seats, although slightly lower for regional ones, and it is here where the Conservatives will be looking to make progress. Last time Labour scored 31.7% in the constituency section and 26.3% in the regional contests. The Conservatives scored 13.9 and 12.4. Most people think the Tories will be up to 18-20%, so it all depends on how much Labour’s vote declines and how many seats from them the SNP take in both contests. If the Conservatives do indeed manage to become the main opposition party, it will demonstrate that Kezia Dugdale’s plan has so far come to nothing.
In the Welsh Assembly elections Labour seems to be doing better in Wales than in any part of the United Kingdom. They hold 30 seats in the Assembly at the moment, compared to the Conservatives on 14, Plaid Cymru on 11 and the LibDems on 5.
Labour is down 12 points in the polls in Wales since the last Assembly election and their poll ratings are on a downward spiral. It appears that they will have to form a coalition to continue in power, but Plaid seem to be the only party they could possibly coalesce with. Polls also show that Plaid may well get more seats that the Conservatives. However, the Tories seem to always outperform the polls in Wales, but they may suffer from losing votes to UKIP, who are likely to win seats in the regional part of the election across all five Welsh constituencies.
There is also a parliamentary by-election in Ogmore on Thursday.
In the Northern Ireland Assembly the DUP has 38 seats, Sinn Fein 29, the UUP 13, SDLP 14, Alliance 8, UKIP 1, Greens 1, Others 4.
Judging by the polls not a lot is going to change in Belfast on Thursday. The UUP appears to be likely to gain at the expense of the DUP with the SDLP possibly going up marginally at the expense of Sinn Fein. Otherwise it is very much as you were. Having said that, I admit to no expertise at all on Northern Ireland politics!
Sinn Fein 27-30
All eyes will be on Labour this Thursday, to the exclusion of virtually everything else. Sadiq Khan holds the key to whether Labour will have anything they can remotely cheer about, If Sadiq Wins, expect Labour to deploy Operation Kenneth Baker. Back in 1990 the Conservatives got a terrible drubbing in the local elections. But they managed to retain control of their flagship councils in Westminster and Wandsworth. And that’s what the media covered. Ken Baker’s grin was wider than ever. UKIP are likely to claim some sort of victory and for the first time have elected members to every regional assembly or Parliament in the UK. The Conservatives will be content to be a non-story, but if they make local election gains and supplant Labour as the main opposition in Scotland they will consider it to have been a very good night indeed. The LibDems will be content with small gains in the local elections and to hold their ground elsewhere. The Greens will be looking to build on their total of 145 councillors, although I doubt whether they will reach 200. They are looking to treble their representation in the Scottish Parliament and could win as many as 8 seats.
All in all this may well be a more than average interesting 24 hours given how uninteresting local elections can sometimes be.