If the 2017 local elections in England was a rural contest, taking place predominantly in Tory leaning areas of the Home Counties, the Shires, and the South West, then 2018 is very much the metropolitan elections. The contest, and almost all of the media attention, has been focused around London, but there’s also up for grabs all seats in Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester, and Hull. It looks set to be an exciting election, as we see just how enduring the transformation of the 2017 General Election campaign will be.
UKIP lost all but one seat it contested last time, and this time is notable for its complete absence in many areas of previous strength. After scandals and seemingly perpetual leadership contests much of the UKIP local government base has decided it would rather go it alone. Indeed in Thurrock, the only Council to ever be under UKIP control, the entirety of their group has left to form the Thurrock Independents. Transforming the contest into a common right v. right fight of Conservatives against what’s effectively a Resident’s Association. That UKIP will be wiped out where it does stand is not an unsafe prediction. This offers little solace to the Tories however, whose unexpectedly good 2017 performance largely resulted from their absorbing the UKIP vote; this time there’s little to squeeze in the areas of most need, only in the eastern boroughs of London, carved out of Essex and Kent, is it likely to provide much help.
Nowhere was the transformation of Labour’s prospects during the 2017 campaign felt more than in London, where the party made several unexpected gains and stacked up huge majorities, peaking at 83% of the vote in East Ham. That the dominating story in the week running up to polling day has been the Windrush scandal also leaves Labour activists in high hopes of a good result. Furthermore unlike in General Elections EU citizens have the right to vote this time, and if the 1 million EU residents of London vote to punish the government it will produce a significant boon to the opposition parties.
Labour should be easily expecting to gain Hillingdon, and Barnet, currently the most marginal of all the London Boroughs under No Overall Control. Being the most populous of all the London Boroughs winning this for the first time will be an important step for Labour. However it is also the Council with the highest Jewish population of any in the country and the anti-Semitism scandal that has engulfed the party has cast a shadow over Labour’s hopes. Much analysis will focus on the central London boroughs which while being extremely wealthy on average contain pockets of extreme poverty. On a good night Labour may take Wandsworth, Westminster, and Kensington & Chelsea. The last of these would be a hugely symbolic victory given the election of Labour’s Emma Dent Coad in Kensington being one of the biggest surprises of the 2017 General Election, and shortly thereafter the Council and Government’s botched response to the tragedy of the Grenfell fire provoking widespread anger. Beyond those Labour can hope to build on its impressive 2014 performance by securing its control of Enfield, Croydon, Hammersmith, Harrow, Redbridge, and Waltham Forest. There is also the interesting case of Tower Hamlets, which has seen splits on the left and was for a time controlled by Lutfur Rahman of Tower Hamlets First, before the courts removed him for breaking election law. If Labour can make inroads against the successor parties there it can solidify its control of the Borough.
If anything the problem Labour then runs into is that it has little space to grow in many of the areas up for election; on Manchester Council it already controls all but one seat, and the same is true in many of London’s boroughs such as Islington, in many more where there are under 10 gains to be made. Outside of London they should feel safe about MP Dan Jarvis’ chances of winning the new Sheffield City Region metro-mayor election, whose territory overlaps with what has been jokingly named the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire. Labour are also anticipating a good night in Dudley and the Amber Valley against the Conservatives, and potentially Newcastle and Leeds against the Liberal Democrats.
The Lib Dem’s main targets in the capital will be the Boroughs of Kingston, and Richmond, where they gained seats at last year’s General Election. Outside London areas of potential advance against the Tories include South Cambridgeshire, Winchester, and Portsmouth, all of which the party can hope to gain outright control of on a good night. They will also be expecting good things in St Albans, a Tory controlled council. It voted heavily to remain and the Lib Dems increased their place at the General Election from third to second, it being one of the only places where they saw a significant increase in vote share outside previously held seats. They are also hoping to make steady, but more limited, progress against Labour in many cities such as Oxford, Sheffield, Hull, and Stockport. The cumulative effects of these may be a repeat of the 2016 good-but-not-great result for the party. The real vulnerabilities for them are their continued hold on Sutton Council, and the Watford mayoralty, held by the locally popular Dorothy Thornhill since 2002. With Thornhill retiring both Labour and the Conservatives will be trying their utmost to dislodge the Lib Dems from the mayor’s office.
The first electoral contest for Theresa May since she failed to win a majority last year then seems a major challenge. Having a better than expected night may shore up her leadership at a time when it’s needed, but there’s widespread acknowledgement within the party that Thursday is going to be a tough night.
(Featured Image: Csongor87, Flickr)