In general, in local elections there is everything. Although part of its goal is to give voice to different points of view in different areas, each year has its own general reading. In 2018 Labor and the Conservatives remained in the impasse that they had dragged on since the 2017 general elections. In 2019, the two main parties were affected by a disarray of voters. And in 2021, the Conservatives swept it all away. The local elections of 2022 have meant the first major voter accolade to Keir Starmer.
With the votes counted until this Friday night, the Conservatives have lost 344 councillors.while Labor has won 224, the Liberal Democrats have won 157 and the Greens 82.
Labor victories in ‘Tory’ places
Labor’s results were most spectacular in London, where few had imagined they would win the City of Westminster, apart from the more predictable victories of Barnet and Wandsworth. The impact was amplified because all London councils stood for election and there was a large number of seats being rotated. In the rest of the country, many local councils elect a third of their representatives in each election, so the changes were more limited.
The good result that the Conservatives had in 2021 will continue to be felt in those councils until their councilors compete in elections again in 2024. Even so, there were the odd surprise, such as the Labor victory in Southampton or that of the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems ) in Hull.
But these partial elections also serve to compare the annual evolution in the performance of the parties. Excluding London, the evolution of the vote for Labor for England has been between 6% and 7% since May 2021. If that translated into a national vote share, it would leave the party with a respectable although not overwhelming advantage over the Conservatives of between three and four points. This is the second largest Labor advantage since 2012, the year in which Ed Miliband did best.
Labor’s advantage in 2022 may be greater than it appears from the seemingly small difference in the percentage of votes. Among other reasons, because the right is now much more united under the leadership of the Conservative Party, and not fragmented by Ukip, the Brexit party that distorted the 2014 and 2016 local elections. The Conservatives no longer have that reserve army of voters.
The centre-left is divided between Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens. It’s an obstacle to gaining a comfortable lead in the popular vote, as well as seats in local elections, but for Labor it means a strategic voter pool against the Conservatives. which they can take advantage of.
slight change in the north
The other positive sign for Labor is that, on the face of it, votes are appearing where they are most useful. The distribution of the Labor vote during the 2019 general election was highly inefficient. With that distribution, for Labor to achieve a minimal majority in the House of Commons, they would have to sweep the popular vote in a similar proportion to that of 1997.
However, the slight change in the north could be enough, given that many of the former “red wall” seats [los distritos de voto tradicionalmente laborista] are still hotly contested. Labor fared better in contested places to the south and east like Ipswich and Southampton Itchen, and in parts of the Midlands the turnover has been the highest since 2011.
Last year Labor came close to being knocked out of Dudley when they won just three constituencies to the Conservatives’ 21. But in 2022 they have been left with 12 Dudley districts, including two that were Conservative in 2018. There are four traditionally hotly contested seats in Dudley which in the 2019 general election provided huge Conservative majorities. If they come back into play, a parliamentary majority seems more likely. The party will also be comforted by a good result in Scotland (it was planned), where it also needs parliamentary gains.
Message to Boris Johnson
For Labour, the worst results have tended to be concentrated in areas where the party is part of the establishment council and voters have turned away from them for local reasons. But there has not been a single beneficiary of those losses. In Tameside, the Conservatives took advantage of them; in Hull, the Liberal Democrats; on South Tyneside, the greens; and in scattered districts of the metropolitan north, the independent and local parties.
These are serious enough losses to deny Labor a truly satisfying gain in seats. But they may not jeopardize many Labor seats in Parliament, as they came in places where the party already governs and are about local rather than national issues.
The Conservatives would be very unwise if they decided not to care about the seemingly small advantage obtained by Labour. They should also reflect on another fact: in Wandsworth, in Barnet and in Southampton, the places where voters knew they could send a strong message, did not think twice and gave Labour a strong boost. A very precise hit in the direction of Downing Street.
Translation of Francisco de Zarate