Local Elections 2018

Final results: Labour 2,350 (+77), Conservatives 1,332 (-33), Lib Dems 536 (+75), Greens 39 (+8), UKIP 3 (-123)

These are some of the most interesting local election results I can remember, with all sorts of subtle shifts and trends that will merit analysis for months, not days to come. The picture is complex and varied. Among the blizzard of snap assessments being made, a number of strands stand out: Labour have not built on the (M)omentum of their general election performance; the Tories are struggling in urban areas but are not dead in London; Theresa May’s party was heavily reliant on former UKIP-supporting Brexiteers for success, and nothing has happened to seriously shake our expectation that the next General Election will be a toe-to-toe scrap between Labour and the Conservatives in England and most of Wales.

There is a lot of criticism of the Labour machine for allowing expectations to run out of control, particularly in London. The Conservatives, under Chairman Brandon Lewis, were certainly cannier and more disciplined than their Labour counterparts. But a lot of the concern emanating from CCHQ in recent months was real, not mere expectation management – they really did think they were in deep trouble, particularly in the capital. Those areas where the Tories were surprised to hold the line, or even make gains, should thus be viewed as real successes not mere spin.

Joey Jones, Head of Public Affairs, Weber Shandwick

Summary

  • Key Changes: Labour gained control of Plymouth Council, taking seats from the Conservatives. Local Conservative MP Johnny Mercer has blamed the swing on the Government’s handling of defence cuts in the area. Labour gained Trafford, previously the only Conservative-run authority in the North West, but lost control of Derby where both the Conservatives and UKIP gained seats.
  • London: Labour has picked up a number of seats in London, but did not gain control of Wandsworth and Westminster, which the party had targeted. The Conservatives actually gained overall control of Barnet, compensating for the loss of Richmond to the Liberal Democrats.
  • Looking Forward: The Conservatives gained seats too in Nuneaton, depriving Labour of overall control of that council. Nuneaton has been a bellwether seat in General Elections – when the Conservatives held Nuneaton in 2015, it was a key sign that they would do well that night. The Conservatives also gained seats across the West Midlands and Essex, which are historically marginal areas that decide the fate of governments.

Labour view

Labour backbenchers have been quick to express their disappointment with the Labour results today, with Jess Phillips tweeting this morning that “everyone is claiming failure as victory”. Losing control in Nuneaton and in Derby, and failing to take Barnet – with anti-semitism being blamed for the result there – will be disappointing. Given the Party’s strong position in London it would have been hard to make big ticket seat gains in the capital, and expectations were set very high with Westminster and Wandsworth cited as likely to turn red. Labour is highlighting Plymouth this morning as an example of the Party making gains in middle of the road constituencies in the South of England and as an indication Labour is on General Election footing. The same message came through when Labour took Canterbury in the 2017 General Election – though there is still more work for the Party to do here with areas like Swindon staying blue, and Labour falling back in the West Midlands.

Wendy Mitchell, Associate Director, Weber Shandwick, and former Labour councillor

Conservative view

It was an encouraging night for the Conservatives. They managed to avoid the red-wash predicted in the capital and hold onto key boroughs that Labour had hoped to snatch from them. Elsewhere around the country, the Tories were able to capitalise on UKIP’s demise, with some of their best performances in Leave-voting parts of the West Midlands. The strategy was to focus on local issues and not get distracted by the national problems that have dogged them in recent weeks. Theresa May will be breathing a huge sigh of relief this morning and will hope it will put to bed calls for her to stand aside, not only from the Opposition but from those within the Party too.

Matt McCarthy, Senior Manager, Weber Shandwick, and Conservative council candidate

London view

The overall political landscape in London looks little changed by results so far and the general political climate won’t change much either. That climate has for some time been shifting in the direction of anxiety about the pace of change in the capital and suspicion about the nature of London’s growth, not only on the part of political activists on the left but many other sorts of people too. They ask: “what does ‘regeneration’ do for me?”. London’s political leaders will need to continue to find more convincing answers to such questions if the Mayor’s vision of Good Growth is to be realised.

Dave Hill, OnLondon http://www.onlondon.co.uk/