The local election results mirrored the General Election ones – with bad news for Lib Dems and Labour
With results coming in throughout last Friday, many of the local election results were lost as the commentators digested the Conservatives’ surprise victory in the General Election.
Local elections can often provide comfort to opposition parties in between General Elections as they become a proxy for general voter feeling towards the Government. Labour’s victory under Tony Blair in 1997 was prefaced by significant gains in the local elections building up to it. Similarly the Liberal Democrats’ run to 2010 electoral success was built on a surge in support at the council level. However, when council elections coincide with the General Election then many people vote ‘down the ballot’ – they vote for whichever council candidate is from the same party as their national choice.
Unfortunately for both Labour and the Liberal Democrats, there was little comfort to be gained from the local results and it looks like voters matched their local vote to the General Election. It was particularly bad for the Lib Dems who saw their support evaporate so that they now hold under 2,000 councillors compared to 8,766 Conservative and 6,873 Labour. As the Lib Dems had built electoral success on their local operations around the country, with campaigning funds dependent in some areas on the income from local councillors, this is a blow that will take at least a few local government election cycles to recover from.
While the Conservatives and Labour now dominate council control across the country, it was not a great night for the Labour party either. While the Conservatives gained three councils from Labour, one council from the Lib Dems and a further 29 from No Overall Control (NOC), Labour managed to take just one council from the Conservatives and two from NOC. By contrast, they lost control of five to NOC.
The party lost various council seats in urban areas where they generally hope to poll well, mirroring the story at a national level. Meanwhile UKIP were able to claim their first council in Thanet, despite Nigel Farage’s failure to take the parliamentary seat.
These were an important set of elections to win as a large proportion of them were for the whole council as opposed to a third of councillors being up for election. This means that the gains made by the Conservatives will last a number of years in many cases.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats will have to begin the process of renewal trying to take bites out of the next set of elections, always wary of the growing threat of UKIP. How successful they are in the next few sets of local elections will set the tone for how fiercely they will be able to contest the 2020 General Election.