The Key Contests in the Northern Home Counties Region
Following the pandemic, the post-lockdown excitement and the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, it is easy for the public to forget that the first local elections since 2019 are taking place on 6 May. However, the Cratus Home Counties team is watching these elections carefully as you would expect.
In the Northern Home Counties region there are a large number of district, unitary and county councils holding elections including the new Buckinghamshire unitary authority which is having its first ever election. We have listed below some of the more interesting contests:
One of many tight contests in this round of elections is Basildon as Labour currently hold power with the support of a group of Independent councillors. Labour will see their Leader of the Council, Cllr Gavin Callaghan, up for election along with their deputy group leader and Chair of the Planning Committee. One of the seats up for contention is in Laindon Hills ward where Labour, Conservatives and Independents each have a seat and will be a key battleground for the control of the council. If Labour do hold on, expect Keir Starmer to point to Basildon as an example of Labour being able to win in areas which voted strongly for Brexit.
Holding their inaugural elections, the new Buckinghamshire unitary council is set to elect 147 councillors making this the largest council in the country with more members than the Scottish Parliament. The Conservatives had an overwhelming majority on each of the four former District councils in Buckinghamshire and in the current political environment they can be expected to win a majority of seats. However, we can expect Labour to make some inroads in the Wycombe area (reflecting on their strong recent General Election results) and the Liberal Democrats to be competitive in some of the seats around Aylesbury. There may also be a small number of Independents campaigning largely on an anti-Green Belt development ticket elected.
Labour currently controls Milton Keynes in a minority administration and they are dependent on Liberal Democrat support to govern. Labour may incur losses at this election as they are defending seats in Bletchley Park and Loughton & Shenley which are wards which have two Conservative councillors elected in 2018 and 2019. However, the Conservatives will have the Liberal Democrats hot on their heels in seats like Broughton where the Conservatives will be defending seats in wards where the Liberal Democrats have been picking up votes.
Oxford City Council is having a rare all-out election after the delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Oxford City Council has been dominated by the Labour party with Liberal Democrats and the Greens taking some of the seats in opposition. This is likely to remain broadly the same as Labour’s strength in the East of the city is likely to continue to produce a comfortable majority for the Party. The Greens will undoubtedly be looking to make gains in a city they have enjoyed some success in at previous election cycles.
St Albans has seen a recent shift to Liberal Democrat control after voting heavily Remain at the 2016 EU referendum. The Liberal Democrats gained control of the Council in 2019 and won the St Albans Parliamentary seat at the 2019 General Election in a result which went against the national trend. These recent trends are reflected in the candidate selections at this election with five Conservative councillors standing down at these elections and two others switching to wards which are perceived as more winnable. A particularly close contest is likely in Park Street ward where former Liberal Democrat turned Independent councillor David Yates is being opposed by Conservative councillor Richard Curthoys who has moved from his Marshalswick South ward. On balance, we would expect the Liberal Democrats to strengthen their position in this cycle.
Thurrock has seen the Conservatives garner significant support in recent election cycles in an area which voted to leave the EU by over 70%. In addition, a number of former UKIP and Thurrock Independent councillors have recently joined the Conservatives giving them outright control of the Council. Despite this, there are a few notable seats that could prove to be a challenging defence for the Conservatives in Belhus and The Homesteads wards, as the Thurrock Independents have seen success in these wards in the May 2019 election. The most likely outcome is for the Conservatives to maintain control of the Council.
The Conservatives have a challenge in Welwyn Hatfield in this year’s election cycle as they are defending 10 out of 17 seats up for grabs. These include several Cabinet members. The Conservatives have suffered losses in recent election cycles especially to the Liberal Democrats. However, the Liberal Democrat group has its own challenges with leader Cllr Malcolm Cowan is standing down this time around.
Despite this there are limited opportunities for the Conservatives to consolidate their position and it may be that the recent slippage in their position continues albeit they remain the largest Party on the Council. Unless the historic distrust between the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups can be reconciled, a continued minority Conservative administration appears the most likely post-election scenario.
If you’re interested in the work Cratus is doing in the Northern Home Counties, feel free to reach out to Duncan to find out more.