It’s a big week ahead, with various different elections coming up on Thursday. Here’s what we’ve got to look ahead to:


There are local elections across all of Scotland, delayed from last year in order to de-couple the Scottish local election timetable from Scottish Parliamentary elections. Seats up for grabs are, very roughly 150 Con, 350 Lab, 150 Lib Dem, 350 SNP, 200 Others.

Scottish councils are elected by STV, meaning that the majority of Scottish councils have no one party with a majority (the exceptions are some councils with a majority of Independents, and North Lanarkshire which has a Labour majority. Glasgow did have a Labour majority, but has lost it through defections, and how well Labour does in its heartland of Glasgow given the SNP’s success there last year will be one of the main things to watch.)

The question in Scotland will largely be the battle between the SNP and Labour – the SNP made sweeping landslide gains in the Scottish Parliamentary elections last year, will that be reflected in the local elections this year, or will their support have started to fade? There has not been much recent Scottish polling to judge it by. Scottish councils are all counting on Friday, with results coming in from around lunchtime until late afternoon.


There are also local elections throughout almost all of Wales (the exception being Anglesey, currently being run by Commissioners and having its boundaries redrawn). All councils in Wales are all-out elections, and there are roughly 170 Conservatives, 340 Labour, 140 Lib Dems, 180 Plaid, 375 others up for election. In contrast to Scotland Labour did very well here in the Assembly elections, so should expect some solid gains. The Conservatives currently control 2 councils – Monmouthshire (quite solidly) and Vale of Glamorgan (quite narrowly), Labour control two, but can expect gains. Most of the Welsh councils are counting on Thursday, but with multi-members wards to count the results will be quite late into the night.

English local elections

The English district council councils are few this year compared to last year, although it’s still more than Scotland and Wales. English councils that elect all-out went to the polls last year, so apart from a handful of councils with boundary changes it is only councils that elect by halves or thirds. Altogether there are about 2400 English council seats up for election (about 1125 Conservative, 575 Labour, 530 Lib Dems, 150 others). With only a third of seats up for grabs it is harder for control of a council to change hands, but in many cases Labour already made advances in the 2011 elections, so this year they are looking to finish the job.

Attention here will be paid to the numbers of seats won and lost, and the shares of the vote won. Michael Thrasher and Colin Rallings estimate that the current positions in the polls should equate to about 700 gains for Labour, with the Conservatives and Lib Dems losing seats. Last year the Conservatives bucked expectations by gaining enough seats from the Lib Dems to cancel out their losses to Labour – that won’t happen this time as all those all-out district councils where the Conservatives picked up lots of gains from the Lib Dems are not up for election; proportionally the Metropolitans make up a much bigger chunk of the seats up for grabs.

Secondly there are the shares of the vote or, more accurately, the BBC’s projected national share of the vote which is calculated on the night by Professor John Curtice, based upon numerous “key wards” across the country where all three of the main parties are standing both this time and last time the ward was contested, allowing changes in the vote shares to be calculated and built into a picture of what the shares would be if there were elections across the whole country. The projection is for the whole country, but it is based only on local elections in England, not the Scottish and Welsh locals and not the mayoral or London Assembly elections. In 2011 the BBC figures were CON 35%, LAB 36%, LDEM 16% (these have been revised slightly since the figures released on the night), in 2010 on general election day they would have been CON 35%, LAB 27%, LDEM 26% – note how the Lib Dems do a bit better and Labour a bit worse than the general election vote on the same day. People vote differently in local and general elections.

Rallings and Thrasher make a similar calculation (called the Equivalent National Vote) which normally turns up at the weekend following the elections. The basic principle is the same, but the actual figures differ slightly – presumably through choosing different key wards and comparing to different baselines.

London Mayor & assembly elections

Perhaps the highest profile election is that of London mayor – the Boris vs Ken rematch. I think most people will already have a good idea of this one, one man, elected through the Supplemental Vote (i.e. people get to give a first and second preference, but not rank all candidates. If no one gets fifty percent on the first vote, all but the top two are eliminated and their voters second preferences reallocated). All the polls so far suggest that the final two will be Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone, with Boris consistently holding a small lead.

The London Assembly meanwhile is elected from 14 large constituencies, and 11 top-up seats awarded by the d’Hondt system, based on a second “list” vote. In contrast to Boris’s lead in the polls for London mayor, all polls for the London assembly have shown Labour with a solid lead. The things to watch will be whether the Conservatives get enough seats to pass a budget (the assembly needs a two-thirds vote to amend the mayors budget) and the representation of smaller parties, who need to get over the 5% threshold to win representation. In 2008 the Greens and BNP managed this, in 2004 the Greens and UKIP did.

The London election doesn’t count until Friday. Results for constituencies should start arriving in early afternoon, the mayoral result should turn up in late afternoon or early evening.

Other mayoral elections and referendums

11 cities have referendums on whether or not to have an elected mayor. Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Nottingham, Newcastle, Manchester, Sheffield and Wakefield will vote on whether to adopt an elected mayor system. Doncaster, who currently have an English Democrat mayor, will vote on whether to abolish the position. Salford and Liverpool will actually elect their mayors on Thursday (Salford has already voted YES in a referendum, Liverpool didn’t hold one).

Do they matter?

Yes – it matters deeply in terms of shaping the narrative, in terms of whether a party is seen to be moving forwards and doing well, or unpopular and doing badly. In 2011 the narrative emerged that Labour had rather flopped in the local elections and the Conservatives had done well. Labour didn’t get the gains that had been expected and on the same night did very badly in Scotland; the Conservatives made gains when they had been expected to make large losses.

This week should be different – Labour are almost certain to do well in the local elections in Wales and England. The question marks are over whether Labour or the SNP will look like winners in Scotland, and the outcome of the London mayoral election. If Labour do well across the board it will give them a big boost, giving them the aura of winners and the sense of making a step towards victory (conversely, it will yet another bit of bad news for the government). If there is more of a mixed bag then the political parties will have the normal battles of each trying to portray themselves as having done well and their opponents badly. The Conservative’s best hope for a victory is Boris Johnson in London, so if he wins they’ll be focusing on that and trying to use it to draw a line under recent difficulties before moving on to the Queen’s Speech (and perhaps a reshuffle?). The Lib Dems will be hoping that they can take something from the inevitable losses to suggest they have bottomed out and got over the worst of it.

Of course, there will also be the practical impact – councillors are often the ground troops, the activists who knock on doors and deliver leaflets, so Labour’s gains will help them in the future, Conservative and Lib Dem losses will slowly hollow out their respective organisations. And, let us not forget, they also determine who actually runs some local councils for the next 4 years.

53 Responses to “Local and mayoral election preview”

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  1. Peter, (still councillor Friday I predict)
    As always an intersting post but I have a question about the LDs and Tuition fees.

    Is it not the case that there are different arrangements in Scotland than E&W so the pledge was not relevant as it is a devolved matter.
    If so is this a good example of how loss of trust in any party or politician (beyond the plague on all their houses brigade) can have a sustained and significant impact beyond the narrow policy or action in question?

  2. Jim Jam,

    It is a good example of how a general perception matters. If you buid up your support on a pledge to be different from the other parties when you are in power and then act just like them when you get their you risk a real backlash.

    The SNP have in my view were lucky to lose.

    Four years of minority government taught us to try to find compromise where we could and what circumstances forced us to do turned out to be what people wanted.

    We also decided to fight a positive campaign and be upbeat while all our opponents were ( and still are) being relentlessly negative. Again that turned out to be popular.

    All my material has been upbeat and lays out the few key things we are promising;

    Protecting Jobs ( no compulsory redundancies), Living wage, Freezing the Council Tax, being more efficient and more local decision making. I haven’t tried to claim credit for things that have turned out well or avoid responsibility for unpopular decisions, nor have I mentioned any other party let alone attack them.

    In contrast the LibDems have been going for us and talking as much about the SNP as themselves.

    I think that will back fire because both the public is fed up of negative politics and they are using the tactics of an opposition against a government when they are running the Council.

    I may of course be dead wrong and get a beating on Thursday, but I have a felling we have got the mood right and that by attacking a still broadly popular government and party as the route of all evil they have taken the wrong tac.

    We will no soon enough but it may well be that across the country the LibDems are about to learn just how much things have changed.

    Cllr Peter Cairns (SNP)

  3. The SNP will make gains without a doubt – regardless of how well they will do in terms of % of the vote. The reason is that they didnt stand enough candidates last time (particularly in Glasgow), and the vagaries of the STV system meant that there were wasted SNP votes which could have elected further councillors. (Although I would argue that all SNP votes were wasted ;))

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