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Four things you need to know about the UK local elections

Four things you need to know about the UK local elections
By Vincent McAviney
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Yesterday the UK held local elections across parts of the country, but the results aren’t coming in as expected…

What happened?


4,371 seats were up for grabs in 150 councils in what was seen as the test of political opinion across England since the general election last year.

Labour already control most of London's councils but with a recent YouGov poll putting them ahead in London by 22 points, they were hoping to add to their tally of 20. The Conservatives controlled 8 councils including strongholds like Wandsworth, Westminster and the crown jewel council of Kensington and Chelsea.

However, Labour has failed to turn the capital’s map red with the Conservatives holding onto the aforementioned councils and gaining Barnet from no overall control. Elsewhere in the country, Corbyn's party did manage to take Plymouth and became the largest party in Trafford.

For the Conservatives, they managed to capitalise on the collapse in UKIP’s vote. They picked up votes in places that voted "Leave" in the referendum, taking councils like Basildon and Peterborough.

An honourable mention goes to the Liberal Democrats, known for their local campaign strength, in taking back councils like Three Rivers, South Cambridgeshire and their leader Vince Cable’s local Richmond.

What does it show?

The only clear message from the results is that UKIP is dead. In 2014, the party made significant gains but at the time of writing, they’d lost over 120 seats, clinging on to three. The party is on its fifth leader since the referendum and this morning general secretary Paul Oakley voluntarily compared UKIP to the plague saying: “Think of the Black Death in the middle ages, it comes along and it causes disruption then it goes dormant, and that’s exactly what we are going to do.”

He carried on the analogy when challenged on BBC Radio 4’s "Today" programme claiming the Black Death “led to economic growth and the Renaissance” but seemingly forgetting it killing millions across Europe.

Otherwise, it showed the importance of expectation management — the Conservatives wary that the floundering government could have an impact locally set their goals low with ministers talking them down.

Labour, supported by Corbyn’s Momentum movement, thought they had a serious shot at taking those prized London councils, believing the Conservatives would be punished for their handling of Brexit and Grenfell. That didn’t come to pass and Labour MPs, unhappy with Corbyn, are citing the anti-Semitism row which has engulfed the party recently and his strange response to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.

How have May and Corbyn responded?

Both leaders are trying to remain upbeat despite a lack of big gains. With such a mixed picture of results across the country and the failure to take talked up London Councils, Jeremy Corbyn jumped on a train to Plymouth early doors. Corbyn said his party had a “solid” result.

Labour managed to take control of the South West council, a part of England the party performs poorly in during national elections. A Navy port town, the Conservative MP for the area Johnny Mercer admitted Labour’s victory was down to the government’s mishandling of defence issues.

The Prime Minister, on the other hand, went to visit Wandsworth in South London saying: “Labour thought they could take control, this was one of their top targets and they threw everything at it, but they failed.”

What would happen if there was a general election now?

Former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron introduced something called "The Fixed Terms Parliament Act" in 2011 to try and stabilise his coalition agreement with Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. The Act aimed to create fixed-term parliaments of five years, prior to that calling a general election was at the Prime Minister of the day’s discretion, but no later than five years after the previous election.

After the 2015 general election, the next was not expected until 2020. However, Theresa May got around this last year calling a snap election using the two-thirds ratifying vote in the House of Commons — a clause in the act. Despite seemingly riding high in the polls and the perceived weakness of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May suffered a devastating blow to her authority, losing her majority and have to strike a deal with Northern Ireland’s DUP to stay in power.

For as long as Theresa May remains leader of her party — with her growing vulnerability, this looks precarious — she will not be calling a general election any time soon. If, however, the backbench Brexiteers, who already reportedly issued May an ultimatum this week on her proposed Customs Partnership plan with the EU, cause regicide, as Margaret Thatcher experienced, whoever were to emerge as her successor would be very wary of calling another snap election.

If they were bold enough, it’s difficult to decipher from these results who would win. Local elections are often, unsurprisingly, about local issues — think bin collection and potholes rather than Brexit. Pundits had predicted that Labour would make decent gains on Thursday, following a difficult few weeks for the government with Syria airstrikes, the Windrush scandal and the resignation of Amber Rudd. If these were more normal times, then maybe, for now, Theresa May's "keep calm and carry on" routine is perhaps balanced with voters who have passed peak Corbyn mania.

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