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Local Government by-election report – April 2019


On May 2nd the terms of 8,800 council seats across much of England and all of Northern Ireland expired. These elections were part of the usual four yearly cycle (the largest of the regular local government election days) when councillors have to re-stand for their seats in order to continue serving. Many of these councillors faced straight forward re-elections, whilst others have reached that point in their lives when it is time to stand down and either retire or just do something else. Others, of course, lost their seats in the usual democratic upheaval and will either have to wait for future opportunities to return or else never be seen back on the council again.

In the meantime, in the run-up to the big day of local council elections there were still a few by-elections held in councils not electing at all e.g. County Councils, or that elect in thirds (rather than all at one go) and have seats not otherwise concluding their terms.

April started in Norfolk with the County division of Wroxham re-electing a Conservative with 55.75% of the vote to consolidate Conservative control of the County Council (54 of the 84 seats).

On 11th April, Thornton ward of Lambeth held its second by-election of 2019 to replace the former Leader who is now working for the GLA at City Hall. Having held the ward by 1,500 votes in May 2018 Labour won the first by-election in February by 309 (despite a decent 21% swing to the Lib Dems). In April though, Labour came within an ounce of losing the seat to the Lib Dems after a 26.9% swing against them compared to May 2018. Only 19 votes separated the two Parties and whilst a Lib Dem by-election success would have made no difference to the control of the Council (Labour hold 57 of 63 seats), such a spectacular result will have sent a few shockwaves through the administration.

In Burnley, the Lib Dems regained a seat they previously held before their councillor defected to the Burnley and Padiham Independents. Whilst they lost some votes to the Conservatives and Independents, they held the seat by 10% over Labour, who run the Council administration with 27 of the 45 seats.

Scotland and Wales also saw seats change hands on 11th April. In the Merthyr Tydfil ward of Cyfarthfa a by-election took place to replace a Merthyr Independent. The Independent Group (a separate group from Merthyr Independents) took control of the Council from Labour in 2017 and it has remained on a knife edge with 14 Independent Group councillors, 14 Labour and four more other Independents. A win for either Labour or the Independent group could have been significant in who controls the Council and so it proved, with the Independents taking the seat with an easy 60.7% of the vote share and increased their members to 15 (out of 33). Labour remain on 14 and there are four other Independent councillors.

In Edinburgh, the Leith Walk ward changed hands from Labour to SNP to give the Nationalists 17 seats, equal to the Conservatives. The change has made little practical difference however as the City is still run by an SNP/ Labour minority coalition with the Conservatives the principle opposition, followed by Greens on eight, Lib Dems on six and four Independents.

Finally for April, Labour held a seat in the Belle-Vue division of Shropshire by 200 votes over the Lib Dems with the Conservatives losing half their vote share to turn a previous three-way marginal into a two-way one instead. The County remains comfortably Conservative run with 48 of the 74 seats.