On Thursday, voters will go to the polls to pick new councillors in ten Yorkshire councils across all four counties. The seats up for election were last contested in 2019, a year which was poor both for the Conservatives and for Labour. But, with polling showing a strong Labour lead, Keir Starmer should be expecting considerable gains.
All four major English parties are in administration across Yorkshire, and all will have crucial challenges to avoid a bad election night. So what areas will define success and failure for Yorkshire’s political players?
Will Conservative red wall bricks hold?
The 2022 local elections were cataclysmic for Yorkshire Conservatives. The party lost swathes of councillors in areas like Bradford and Wakefield, where they also have a parliamentary presence, along with nearly being unseated from the true blue North Yorkshire council. Their performance was so bad that the party could easily lose 8 MPs across North and West Yorkshire if replicated in a general election.
To have any chance of winning the next election, keeping its council base in its parliamentary battlegrounds will be crucial. Their performance in these red wall councils will be a useful indication of how many of the class of 2019 will make it through the next election.
Another interesting election will be the East Riding of Yorkshire, which will see its first local election since 2019. Like North Yorkshire last year, it has been a solidly Conservative area, but several seats are vulnerable to Labour, the Lib Dems, Greens, and Independent candidates. How well they can stave off losses there may be a sign of the long-term future of the Tory brand.
Will the Lib Dems keep power in York and Hull?
The Liberal Democrats are in administration in two Yorkshire councils up for election this year: York and Hull. Both were won in very different circumstances: York was won in a ‘wave’ election in 2019, in partnership with the Greens, while Hull was won after several hard election cycles in both good and bad years for their main opposition, Labour.
In Hull, the Lib Dems actually have the opportunity to pick up a seat, in Longhill and Bilton Grange, which Labour won in 2019 but lost in 2022. However, being in administration may well present new challenges.
Meanwhile, the Lib Dem led administration in York has seen a couple of notable scandals, including restrictions in the city centre against blue badge holders opposed by former resident Dame Judi Dench, and a row over an expensive pay-out to the council’s former CEO.
The Liberal Democrats are famously good at fighting elections from opposition, but whether they can hold onto power will be a key test of the party’s enduring popularity and sustainability.
Will the Greens keep up their advances?
2019 was an undeniably good year for the Green Party. The party broke through in several councils across Yorkshire, which set it up for more sustained gains across subsequent election cycles.
However, progress has been slower since then. While the party has made sustained gains in metropolitan areas like Sheffield, breaking through in West Yorkshire’s red wall councils has been more difficult.
Councils like Bradford, where the Greens have continued to win more seats, and Calderdale, which elected a Green councillor for the first time in 2022, will present crucial benchmarks for the extent to which the Greens are still a growing force.
So too will be Sheffield, where the Greens are in administration with Labour and the Lib Dems. The party failed to match their 2021 record performance in 2022, and controversies over the city’s clean air zone (CAZ) may well feel at the environmental party’s doorstep.
Will Labour set themselves up for an election win?
The man under the most pressure at this election will be Keir Starmer. The Labour leader is widely tipped to win the next general election, and not only will these local polls be a key test of Labour’s popularity, but a valuable opportunity to build up a base of councillors who can campaign for the party at the next general election.
Unlike other parties, Labour has a significant number of councillors across Yorkshire, so their challenge is ‘everything, everywhere, all at once’. It will mean winning back seats from far right independents in Barnsley, from Lib Dems in Kirklees, and the Conservatives in Bradford.
Getting a presence back in the East Riding, which lost all of their Labour councillors in 2019, and beginning the fightback against the Liberal Democrats, who took Hull council from Labour last year, could also be goals for a larger revival.
A prize for all parties: City of York
One place where all parties will be looking for success will be the City of York council.
The council has all of its seats up for election, which were last fought in 2019. Then, the Lib Dems swept into administration from gains largely in Conservative-held rural wards.
There are several complex battlegrounds in York. While the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will be having it out in York’s rural wards, Labour will also want to start to make a showing in the same areas, as York Outer is a target seat of theirs at the next election.
Meanwhile, two three-member city centre wards, Micklegate and Fishergate, both have a mix of Green and Labour councillors. Both parties will be hoping to muscle the other out of such areas.
Meanwhile, one of York’s independent councillors, Bishopthorpe’s John Galvin, is retiring. While the ward is traditionally Conservative, the Greens came second there in 2019, so it will be genuinely competitive this time too.
All parties will have something to gain from York at this election, and with little chance of any party winning a majority, a change of administration may also be possible.