Labour’s recent internal polling leak showed that they are bracing themselves for a rough local election cycle. On the back of this they released a party-political broadcast, praising the work of their local councillors. We have been highlighting the poor performances of recent times, and February was no different. The Conservatives have continued to benefit from an uplift following December’s General Election success – largely at the expense of Labour.
February began with a solitary contest in Warrington’s Burtonwood & Winwick ward. The seat was vacated by a Labour councillor who in 2017 had 61% of the vote. Any upsets were highly unlikely, but the Conservatives managed to increase their share by 13.9% – this fits the overall theme of the Tory surge in the North.
The action from this week was seen in a number of councillors across the country changing allegiances. Eight Hartlepool councillors have left the Brexit Party and returned to their various Independent groupings. Hartlepool Council was thrust into the limelight in November 2019 when the Independent Union councillors joined Nigel Farage’s party to make Hartlepool the first (and only) Brexit Party-run council in the country.
Derbyshire County Council played host to the upset of the week, with a result bucking the trend of Labour’s poor performances. Cllr Ruth George (MP for High Peak from 2017-2019) won the Whaley Bridge by-election for Labour, recording a swing of more than 20%.
Down in Hertsmere, Labour did not enjoy the same fortune. Their vote share sank by 13% as the Conservatives rose by 4% to 49% overall and the Lib Dems secured a bump of 7%. Cllr Brett Rosehill will now represent the ward until 2023.
The rest of the results from the week were parties holding their vacated seats. In Thanet, the Conservatives held their Cliffsend & Pegwell ward seat and gained a further 14% of the vote in doing so. In Waverley, an Independent replaced another Independent in the Milford seat. Cllr Maxine Gale claimed victory – a long-serving parish council from Witley, she beat her fellow Parish councillor and Tory contender Carmel Oates to the seat.
This week saw only one election held. In Middlesbrough, 20-year old Cllr Luke Mason was elected as the new Conservative councillor for Coulby Newham, following predecessor David Smith’s resignation in January.
The bulk of February’s results came in the last week of the month. Manchester held the by-election to fill the Clayton and Openshaw ward where Independent candidate, Cllr Ken Dobson, claimed the seat from Labour in a very narrow race. Labour’s vote share held up a lot better than in other parts of the country, and only saw a 1% swing away from them, but this was enough for Cllr Dobson to win. He re-joins the council after previously serving as a Liberal Democrat councillor for Manchester City Centre.
Elsewhere in the North former MP for Crewe and Nantwich, Laura Smith, joined Cheshire East Council as Labour held Crewe South.
In Cambridgeshire, the Duxford division by-election was won by Cllr Peter McDonald for the Liberal Democrats – the seat was previously held by a Conservative.
Only one other seat changed hands, in Wrexham the Gwersylit division was taken by Cllr Phil Rees for Plaid Cymru following the seat being vacated by an Independent.
Other results from the week included the Hillingdon East by-election in which the Tories romped home to increase their majority and secure 69% of the vote. The Conservatives also held Whittlesford in South Cambridgeshire but in a much less convincing manner – Lib Dems surging to 45%, 10 points behind them.
As mentioned at the top, it has been another rough month for Labour as they have seen only one gain which was one of their recently ousted MPs. With such a short turnaround from April 4th when the Labour leadership contest comes to an end and the May elections, it is hard to see at this moment in time a positive story for Labour outside of the London Mayoral race.