With the local elections just days away, eyes will turn to the big metropolitan councils in the North of England to see how the main parties will fare.
The thinking amongst those “in the know” is that we will face a General Election with the next 12 to 16 months, meaning these elections could be the last chance for each Party to set their stall out before the main event.
“The North” is often a region looked at by political pundits and pollsters alike as they try and predict the likely results of a General Election. In 2019 the region was dominated by “red wall” analysis, a term coined to describe those mainly urban, Labour heartlands, which spread across large parts of the North and Midlands. Towns and cities such as Hartlepool, Bolton, Durham, and Sedgefield were all labelled in this way, as the Conservatives won a record number of seats in the region from Labour.
So the 2023 local elections will be of massive interest. It will provide us an opportunity to see whether Labour have managed to claw back some of its popularity in these seats, or whether the Conservatives are maintaining its strength. We may also see a small uprising in the minority parties such as the Liberal Democrats or Green Party, who all hope to make gains in the coming weeks.
We have identified three areas of interest below:
One of the most fascinating elections across the country will be those taking place in Liverpool. Dominated by scandal over the last few years, Liverpool City Council has traditionally been a Labour stronghold, with the party holding the majority of council seats since 2010. However, issues around the former Labour Mayor, Joe Anderson, and much party infighting has left the ruling Labour Group fighting on many fronts.
Boundary changes and the move to single-member wards also hold unprecedented opportunities for the other groups. The Liberal Democrats (once the party of power in Liverpool from 1998 to 2010) are hopeful that they can get more councillors elected, with some predicting the group could end up on around 30 councillors. Elsewhere the Green Party and Liberals (not to be confused with the Lib Dems) will be looking to extend their numbers.
It would take a swing of massive proportions to remove Labour from power in Liverpool. However, whilst we don’t expect the city to be governed by a different group after May, we do expect a greater opposition to the Labour group when the votes are all counted.
2019 saw the Council taken by a coalition of Conservatives and independent groups. A once strong Labour area, Hartlepool became the symbol of the red wall seats which were swept up by the Conservative Party under the leadership of Boris Johnson.
May 2023 provides us will a real opportunity to see whether the Conservatives have managed to sustain this power or whether the once-traditional Labour vote has gone back to where it always was, pre-2019.
Onne fly in the ointment is that the Conservatives and independents are defending eight seats, whilst the Labour group are only defending four. Whilst this could mean that it is unlikely that Labour can win a majority of councillors during the election, it does mean the Conservatives have more to lose going into polling day.
One of the major surprises of last year was in Hull. The Liberal Democrats took control of the City Council, after Labour had held power for just over a decade.
The Council is on a knife edge, with the Liberal Democrats having a majority of just one. This year, they are defending eight seats, many of which have very small majorities. This could make the race for Hull Town Hall a fascinating battle. Our analysis shows that the key battles will be in Pickering ward and University ward, two seats that Labour must win to take back control.
This council is too close to call and we expect many recounts during the actual counting of votes.