May 03, 2018
Swing to Labour in London but Tory vote holds firm outside capital in first major test of voter opinion since general election
Labour and Tories enjoy mixed night of results in local elections in England
Labour has made some gains in local elections across England, but after a mixed night of results the party fell short of its hopes to take hold of some key target councils.
On a mixed night for the leading parties, early analysis suggested a 1% swing to the Conservatives outside London, but a swing to Labour in the capital.
In the most cheering news for Jeremy Corbyn, Labour became the biggest party in Trafford – formerly the Conservatives’ only council in Greater Manchester – and gained control of Plymouth, also from the Tories.
But Labour fell short in areas where success had been anticipated, notably the traditional London Tory strongholds of Wandsworth, and Kensington and Chelsea.
Away from the two main parties, the Liberal Democrats were cheered by success in remain-minded London boroughs, while the Greens gained councillors. As predicted, Ukip were all but wiped out in seats defended by the beleaguered party.
Labour and Tories enjoy mixed night of results in local elections in England
In Barnet, north London, where Labour had been confident of taking control, partial results indicated it would not do so, a result closely watched to see whether a row over antisemitism might have affected support in areas with a strong Jewish population.
Another council where a massive Labour electoral effort failed to pay off was Swindon, a traditional bellwether area. Here, Labour gained one ward from the Lib Dems but none from the Tories, who hung on to control of the Wiltshire council by one seat. Labour also lost control of Derby.
Overall, in the first major test of voter opinion since last year’s general election, the main parties were left deadlocked again – a result more likely to buoy Theresa May, who at one point had faced predictions of a leadership challenge if the local polls had gone badly for her.
Jonathan Carr-West, of the Local Government Information Unit thinktank, said results indicated “a better night for the Conservatives than many would have anticipated, while Labour results have not quite lived up to expectations”.
Some Labour figures had played up its chances in areas such as Wandsworth, in part in the hope to generate the impetus needed to get the vote out. But early on Friday, the party was left trying to dampen down expectations again.
The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, told BBC News: “It is mixed, but we are making progress in the sorts of places we’d want to be making progress in.”
Labour’s London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, also sought to tone down the narrative when he arrived at the count in Wandsworth. “Of course, we may not win councils but I think winning councillors who are Labour is a fantastic achievement,” he said.
James Clevery, the Tory deputy chair, told the BBC it was a bad night for Labour. “We know the Labour party were planning to crow, ‘Look at the councils that we took off the Tories,’ and it hasn’t happened,” he said.
The Liberal Democrats recorded the biggest gains in initial seat numbers, gaining control of Richmond council and retaining power in Cheltenham, Sutton and Eastleigh – albeit from a low base when the seats were last fought in 2014.
The Greens took six early seats, among them two in Trafford seized from Conservatives. The party’s co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, said this was “really, really encouraging”. He told the BBC: “If you’d told me four years ago this is where we’d be, I’d have been be thrilled.”
Ukip, whose vote has collapsed since the Brexit referendum, lost 86 seats in early results, holding only two.
Labour’s most notable early success saw it take four seats from the Tories in Trafford, taking its total to 30. After the surprise double-win by the Greens in the Altrincham ward, the Conservatives were left with 29 seats, down from 33.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” said Andrew Western, the leader of the Labour group. “This is far beyond our expectations. We hoped to tip the council into no overall control tonight, but to have become the largest party at the same time is a fantastic bonus.”
But a much-touted Labour attempt wrestle control of Wandsworth – controlled by the Tories since 1978 - was foiled after the Conservatives successfully concentrated resources in key strongholds amid a significantly increased turnout.
Labour came close on a night when it gained seven seats on a flagship Tory council that has been known for its ultra low council tax and outsourcing of local services since 1978.
Labour suffered a major blow in Swindon, where it failed to force the Tories out of power despite a well-resourced campaign and a string of visits from Jeremy Corbyn and other senior figures.
Corbyn’s party gained one ward from the Lib Dems but none from the Tories, who hung on to control of the Wiltshire council by one seat.
The Labour group leader, Jim Grant, said he was bitterly disappointed. “We need to sit down and analyse the figures. Turnout was up all round. We got as many votes as we thought we would need to win.
“Clearly the Conservatives were able to increase their vote. How I don’t know. It may be the collapse of the Ukip vote and that has gone back to the Tories.”
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