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    Local election 2023: Prof Sir John Curtice on the results so far

    • By Sir John Curtice
    • Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University

    The results in those local elections which counted overnight were encouraging for Labour and troubling for the Conservatives. There was also some good cheer for the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

    But with three-quarters of the councils counting results later on Friday, it will be some time before a full picture emerges.

    After the early results were counted overnight, Labour had made a net gain of 119 seats and had taken control of three key targets. These were Plymouth – with a particularly high swing, Stoke – a former Labour but pro-Brexit stronghold lost to the Conservatives in 2019, and Medway.

    In contrast, the Conservatives had suffered a net loss of 228 councillors and lost five councils to no overall control.

    What does it mean for a general election?

    However, these numbers only tell us who is up and who is down since the last time most of the seats were contested.

    That was in May 2019, when both the Conservatives and Labour were low in the polls.

    They do not address the big question which politicians, commentators and the public want answered – is Labour on course, as polls suggest, for a potential general election victory next year?

    To answer that we need to look at votes cast.

    The BBC is collecting the detailed ward by ward voting figures in 45 of the 230 councils where elections were held on Thursday. Nearly half of these councils counted overnight.

    After the overnight count, results in these councils point to a four-point swing from Conservative to Labour since 2019, and a two and a half-point swing since last year.

    Those swings are somewhat lower than might have been expected given the five-point swing to Labour in the national polls since last year.

    Labour will be particularly disappointed that, while so far the Conservatives are five points down on 2022, their own share of the vote is only marginally up on last year. While the rebuff from the voters to the Conservatives was unambiguous, there may still be a question mark over the level of their enthusiasm for the Labour alternative.

    Labour will, however, be pleased that it does seem to have increased its support since last year in those wards where the Leave vote was particularly high in the 2016 referendum.

    Recovering the support of Brexit-backing Britain has been one of the key objectives of Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership.

    A good night for the Lib Dems?

    The Liberal Democrats continue to struggle to register progress in the general election vote intention polls. However, they traditionally perform more strongly in council elections and were defending one of their best performances in local elections since they went into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010.

    They will be pleased, not only in making a net gain of nearly 50 seats after the overnight count, but also in seeing their share of the vote edge up slightly since both 2019 and last year.

    The icing on the cake for the party has been the capture of Windsor and Maidenhead, the home territory of former prime minister, Theresa May.

    All in all, the party may have reached a new local election high since entering into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010.

    That said, the Liberal Democrats will be disappointed that, in wards where they are challenging the Conservatives locally, there is little sign so far of them winning the tactical support of third-placed Labour supporters.

    Securing such tactical support could well be crucial to the party’s chances of capturing seats from the Conservatives at the general election.

    Heavy losses for the Tories

    Many Conservatives were probably hoping that the local elections would suggest the party’s electoral position was not as bad as that portrayed by the polls in recent months.

    In practice, the ballots counted overnight confirm that the Conservatives are in fact in deep electoral trouble.

    Any comfort that the party might draw from the fact that it may have lost less ground to Labour than it feared is negated by the progress recorded by the Liberal Democrats.

    As a result, the party is at risk of finding itself by the end of Friday having indeed suffered the 1,000 losses it was very much hoping to avoid.

    Given the difficulties smaller parties typically have in winning seats under the first-past-the-post electoral system, it is not surprising that so far the Greens have only made a modest gain of 30 seats.

    Nevertheless, the party has maintained the record level of support that it won four years ago, and, crucially, managed to increase its share of the vote by a couple of points in those wards where the party was already strongest.

    Politics at Westminster might be dominated by the Conservatives and Labour, but the political stripes of English local government are rather more variegated.

    John Curtice is Professor of Politics, Strathclyde University, and Senior Research Fellow, NatCen Social Research and The UK in a Changing Europe. Additional analysis by Patrick English, Stephen Fisher, Robert Ford and Dan Snow.



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