Over one fifth of all local councillor seats were up for election last Thursday. The majority of these were in authorities whose elections are held by thirds. The results netted 15 councils changing control all being gained by Labour. The Conservatives lost a net eight councils and the Liberal Democrats lost control of net four while fewer councils were left with no overall control.
This small number of net council changes belies the increase in the number of gains in Labour councillors (approximately 400) in these generally urban elections. Labour was the only party making net gains in the number of councillors elected, at odds with the swing towards Conservatives in the national elections. The Conservatives though have been coming off a high point in local government and so a swing away from them was not unexpected.
Despite the gains Labour remain behind the Conservatives both in terms of overall numbers of councillors and in their outright control of councils. However, the proportionality of each party in terms of representing the population has not yet been calculated and will not be available for another week or so.
The pattern of elections shows that change of control is more likely in those authorities which have less frequent voting. In London (all-out) 11 out of 32 councils changed hands, in the districts, which vote by half, 5 out of 7 changed hands and in these areas the results approximate more closely the national picture.
What is clear from the resultant hung parliament and the pattern of local results is that the public did not vote with a shared mood. Calls to vote for ‘change’ did not catch the public imagination. It is also clear that parties can no longer rely on allegiances being as definitive as they once were and that the smaller parties have gained ground and fragmented the traditional base. The rise of UKIP, the BNP and other small parties was though stemmed at this election. The Liberal Democrats meanwhile were squeezed by both Labour and Conservatives and without the Clegg effect may have polled even fewer votes than their showing. At both local and national level, voters have expressed their views and tapped into deep-seated sentiments and local interests.
Looking at the parallels between the local and the national picture, local government and national parliaments have been working effectively through power sharing agreements. While the national parties are trying to wrestle with power sharing by playing “pass the bomb”, the experience of local government should be persuading them to look to local counterparts for advice.
LGiU members can access a full briefing on the results here.