In the run-up to the local elections, we reviewed what each party would need to achieve to have a good night, and the state of play across the Yorkshire region.
So, how did the parties do?
- Labour won 135 councillors, gaining seven, well into our great scenario for them.
- The Conservatives won 71 councillors, losing 29. This was between our bad and disaster scenario for them.
- The Liberal Democrats won 43 councillors, gaining 13. This was between their good and great scenarios.
- The Greens won 15 councillors, gaining 10. This was also between their good and great scenarios.
This election is a dramatic reversal, not just from the 2021 local election but from the 2018 and 2019 cycles. Labour is set not only to win back the red wall at the next general election, but to hold the line in major cities like Sheffield and Bradford, after years of erosion in their council base. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are on track to gain parliamentary representation, and won the significant prize of Hull City Council, and the Greens have a much-improved council base in Bradford.
So, what can we learn from these elections, and where should we be looking to for the future?
The Lib Dems gain Hull
Hull was a truly surprising election, less because of the result and more because of where seats changed hands. While Labour held wards like Avenue and North Carr, where Liberal Democrats had won in 2021, the Lib Dems gained relatively safe Labour wards like University and Longhill and Bilton Grange.
Whatever the case, the Lib Dems have now won back the council, which they lost in 2010 to Labour. The party has promised a citizens’ assembly, to listen to residents’ voices, to crack down on rogue landlords, and to improve access to recycling centres. Hull will go back to the ballot box next year, re-electing councillors last elected in 2019, and residents will get the chance to give their verdict on the new administration.
Whether the Lib Dems can convert this into parliamentary representation is less certain. In 2010, all three of Hull’s constituencies were Labour-Liberal Democrat battlegrounds, but since then the party has fallen into fourth place in all three, behind Labour, the Conservatives, and the Brexit Party. What is clear, however, is that the party has a powerful base in the city. Whether these can be made into long-term gains is yet to be seen.
Tories in trouble in North Yorkshire
The most surprising result of the night was North Yorkshire, where the Conservatives barely held onto the council with a two-seat majority. Surprising wins for all of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Greens, see all three parties with substantially increased representation. While Labour won marginals like Whitby West, and Weaponness and Ramshill, the Lib Dems won a plurality of the vote in their target constituency of Harrogate and Knaresborough, and the Greens won spectacularly in seats like Sowerby and Topcliffe, and Ouseburn, which had only previously had Conservative councillors.
Whether the parties can do much to moderate the Conservative majority is yet to be seen. The pressure will be on the council to take more action on the cost-of-living crisis, which Selby’s former council leader blamed on their loss of the district to Labour and independent councillors.
This election will certainly drive Lib Dem activists to Harrogate and Knaresborough, after the party won a thousand more votes than Conservatives did in the current Tory constituency. The seat was orange until 2010, and, with a 9,000-vote majority, it could certainly be won in a concerted effort.
Labour holds the line in Sheffield
After a rout in the 2021 local elections, 2022 represented a stabilisation of the electorate in Sheffield. The Greens failed to win wards like Nether Edge and Sharrow, and Walkley, both of which they took from Labour in 2021, while Labour gained from the Lib Dems in Crookes and Crosspool, and from the Greens in Nether Edge and Sharrow.
Labour is certainly not on track to win back the council, but they will likely still be dominant for the time being.
West Yorkshire battlegrounds
West Yorkshire continues to be the most competitive of the four counties, with significant developments in all of its five boroughs.
Elections in Kirklees saw Labour regain the majority, having lost it in 2020. The party gained the wards of Denby Dale and Holme Valley South from the Conservatives, while the Lib Dems and Greens remained static.
Not only did Labour hold the marginal Leeds Council, but they in fact made gains, boosting their majority there. With gains from the Greens in Farnley and Wortley, the Liberal Democrats in Weetwood, and the Conservatives in both Guiseley and Rawdon, and Horsforth, this was arguably one of the party’s strongest performances of the night.
Labour’s performance in Wakefield was similarly impressive. Not only did they make gains in the borough, but they increased their vote share in the wards making up the constituency of Wakefield from 42 percent to 51 percent. With a by-election on the horizon, these will be encouraging results.
Where’s the Yorkshire Party?
This election raised some existential questions about the future of the Yorkshire Party. While the party took third place in the South Yorkshire mayoral elections, they failed to get a seat at the table in any of the nine councils up for election, including in North Yorkshire, where they had representation at the district level. The party’s best result of the night came in Guiseley and Rawdon, where their leader Bob Buxton came a distant third, over 2,000 votes behind the second-placed Conservatives.
While the party has shown a decent ability to mobilise the protest vote at mayoral elections, they have completely failed to convert this into any representation at a local level. Until they can show that they are a serious governing force, it is unlikely that they will be able to make any substantial inroads.
These elections were positive for the opposition parties. While Labour exceeded their high-water mark of 2018 in most areas, the Lib Dems gained the prize of Hull, while the Greens continued to make formidable gains. However, significant questions remain for each of the parties.
For Labour, not only were these elections in relatively unique circumstances of partygate and the cost-of-living crisis, but the 2018 elections came only a year before their 2019 rout. Good results are certainly encouraging, but the challenge will now be to sustain these in subsequent elections.
For the Liberal Democrats, this election saw retreats in boroughs like Bradford and Leeds, while failing to make new ground in Sheffield and other areas. With the Greens coming up behind, the pressure will be on to secure their position as the third party.
The main concern for the Greens will be that a year of administration in Sheffield has already been followed with electoral setbacks. With elections upcoming in York, where they have been in administration for four years, the race will be on to ensure that they maintain their councillor base there.
Most of these boroughs will be up for election in 2023, along with the tantalising prizes of both East Riding and York councils. Whether opposition parties can maintain momentum, and the Conservatives regain theirs, is yet to be seen.