We’ve been looking at what a good night might be for the four main parties in this week’s local elections. So far, we’ve covered the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and the Greens. Today we’re putting Labour under the spotlight.
Nationally, Labour have the most to gain from the 2022 local elections. A good night could see Sir Keir Starmer a prime minister in waiting, the party resurgent in Scotland and the red wall, and Boris Johnson on the ropes.
Locally, they have the most to lose. Defending 122 of the 192 wards up for re-election in 2022, the party’s room for growth is limited, while their potential for losses is high. Over the years, they have lost ground in many of the councils they are defending, like Sheffield, Kirklees and Hull. Could 2022 be the year to turn the tide?
All of the councils mentioned (with the exception of North Yorkshire), elect their members ‘in thirds’: each ward is represented by three councillors, whose elections are staggered, so that an election is held in three of every four years. This means that we have information not only from the last time these particular councillors were elected (2018), but also from when the other cohorts of councillors in their borough were elected (2019 and 2021).
There are many wards where a Labour candidate won in 2018, but other Labour candidates failed to do so in 2019 and 2021, meaning that the incumbent councillor is in for a tough election. Currently, Labour are polling in a similar place to their average in 2018, but the Tories are significantly below their 2018 average.
With that in mind, we’ll offer four potential scenarios: bad, good, great, exceptional.
Theory of change
The name of the game this year for Labour will be simple: win back the red wall. In 2019, the party lost nine constituencies in Yorkshire to the Conservatives, six of which have elections this year. Not only will a good performance in these areas make the party more optimistic for the next general election, but it would swell the party’s monetary and human resources. New councillors mean new part-time activists, who pay increased subs into Labour’s local coffers. Thus, victory at the local level often precedes victory at the national.
War on all fronts in Sheffield
The picture in Sheffield is a particularly complicated one for Labour, where they are defending 16 of 28 wards. Several of the wards which Labour is defending they lost in 2021, such as Beighton and East Ecclesfield (to the Lib Dems) or Gleadless Valley (to the Greens). Equally, there are wards which other parties are defending, which Labour won, or came close to winning, in 2021, like Lib Dem-held Crookes and Crosspool, or Green-held Broomhill and Sharrow Vale.
Three factors could help Labour. First, they are a year more distant from the tree felling scandal, which was so damaging to them in the 2021 local elections. Second, the Greens are no longer in opposition, and may be less popular now they’re part of the administration. Third, Labour are 5–10 points more popular than they were in 2021.
2022 could certainly be chaotic for Labour in Sheffield. In one night, they could both lose and gain wards, to both the Lib Dems and Greens. But nominally, gaining just two seats would be enough to return the party to majority administration.
The challenge of retaining Hull
Labour cannot but expect a bad night in Hull. The party has a majority of one, and is defending Avenue, North Carr, and Sutton wards, which they lost in 2021 to the Liberal Democrats. Losing even two of these will make the Lib Dems the largest party on the council, so the pressure will be on.
One place where Labour could recover some ground could be Bricknell. The last Conservative councillor is defending his ward, which Labour won in 2021. Gaining Bricknell could potentially offset losses elsewhere, and help Labour to hold onto the council.
Majorities under threat in West Yorkshire
While four out of five West Yorkshire councils may have Labour majorities, Labour’s control in several of these authorities is under pressure. Labour only needs to lose three councillors in Calderdale, four in Leeds, and six in Bradford, before its majorities in these boroughs would be undone.
Both cities face tight multi-party competition, with strong Conservatives, Lib Dems, and Greens, not to mention two thriving independent groups in Leeds. Both will be difficult for different reasons.
Leeds has had repeated troubles as of late: the council has become a byword for financial difficulties, with both job and budget cuts in the aftermath of the covid pandemic. Labour could be vulnerable in several wards, including Hunslet and Riverside (to the Greens), and Ardsley and Robin Hood (to the Conservatives).
Bradford, however, will be more politically vulnerable. Labour is defending five wards this year, which they lost in 2021: two to the Greens (Tong and Shipley), two from the Tories (Wyke and Keighley West), and one from the Lib Dems (Bradford Moor). If these results were to be repeated, Labour’s majority on the council would be slashed to two councillors.
So, what will be a good night for Labour?
Labour’s position as the main incumbent means that their scenario positions are hugely different. While a bad night could see administrations at risk across Yorkshire, an exceptional night could even see majorities regained in councils like Sheffield. So let’s break it down:
- A bad night would see 96 Labour councillors elected. This would feature the Liberal Democrats taking majority control of Hull, while Labour’s majority in Bradford being slashed to one.
- A good night would see 122 Labour councillors elected. This would feature a slight recovery from the disappointing 2021, and a chance to at least hold onto minority control in Hull.
- A great night would see Labour winning 131 councillors. This would see a swathe of small advances in Sheffield and Leeds, returning the party to majority in the former.
- An exceptional night would see Labour winning 155 councillors. This would see their majority in Hull increased, see a strong majority in Sheffield, and see the party as solid favourites in the upcoming Wakefield by-election.
The local elections are tomorrow. Where all of the parties we have featured fit into this scenario is yet to be seen. Check in with us after the elections as we return to the state of the parties, and look at what this will mean next for local government in Yorkshire, and the national picture.