What’s up for grabs in the 2021 local elections? The delay of the 2020 local elections means that these are the biggest local elections since 1973, when local government was reorganised, with mostly everyone in England and Wales able to participate in an election.
The delayed 2020 local elections – which are being held this year – were more complicated than the planned 2021 ones, as those seats were last fought over before the 2016 Brexit vote and the subsequent realignments in voting behaviour, so there is a greater possibility of surprising results. The 2017 contests, which were always due to be refought this year, are less strange.
Councils are grouped into three categories: those elected in thirds (that is to say, where a third of their seats are up for grabs this year), those in halves (where half the seats are up) and those that are “all up” (where the whole council is up for re-election).
These previews are neither exhaustive nor a prediction: they are an attempt to lay out what a “good night” for the respective parties would be in each council, though there will also be more specific benchmarks for all the major parties in detailed articles in the run-up to May’s elections, in addition to broad pieces on the metro-mayors and police and crime commissioner elections. I am indebted to work of Andrew Teale’s Local Elections Archive Project, to which you can donate here.
Councils elected in thirds
Amber Valley, Labour held
Labour (defending 11, attacking four) will need to lose three seats to lose its majority, while the Conservatives (defending four, attacking 11) need to gain four. Local politics has remained heavily marginal even as the constituencies within the same area have moved towards the Conservatives. Complicating matters for the Conservatives: the Greens gained a seat in the Duffield ward from the Conservatives in 2019 and will hope to do the same this time around also.
Barnsley, Labour held
Labour holds all but three of the seats up for grabs, though the party ought to be able to take all of them – one from the Conservatives and two from the Barnsley Independent Group, which continues its long-term decline.
Basildon, no overall control (Labour in coalition with independents)
The Conservatives (defending six, attacking eight) need to make four gains to win control, while Labour (defending five, attacking nine) need seven to govern alone. Ukip, which won three seats last time these seats were up, is no longer a factor, though the local party has enjoyed some success running as independents. In what may well be a very tough set of local elections for independents, it is hard to predict how that will play out – and where the 27 per cent of the vote that went to Ukip in 2016 will go this time around.
Bradford, Labour held
A lot going on here: Labour (defending 15 and attacking 15 of the 30 seats up this time) would lose control if it lost just six seats, which is plausible but highly unlikely. Bradford has a complicated political scene incorporating the Bradford Independent Group, the remnants of Respect in the borough, a slew of independents who have split from their parties in a variety of circumstances, the highest profile of whom is the former Liberal Democrat MP David Ward plus all of England’s major parties.
We have no idea how the coronavirus restrictions will change the ability of local councillors to maintain and cultivate their personal votes as independents, but I wouldn’t be shocked if we saw heavy losses for independent candidates across the board because of this. So really, anything could happen.
Brentwood, Conservative held
The Conservatives (defending seven, attacking six) will lose its majority with the loss of only one seat. In “normal” times this would surely be a happy hunting ground for the Liberal Democrats (defending four, attacking nine): the Lib Dems made gains when these seats were last up in 2016 and had a very good set of results in 2019. But it is unclear to what extent lockdown has hampered the Liberal Democrats’ usual pavement politics. Labour (defending one, attacking 12) is essentially superfluous.
Blackburn with Darwen, Labour held
There is no prospect of a change of control whatever happens with these seats – last up during a boundary-change induced set of local elections in 2018 – and a relatively uncomplicated map, with little in the way of major gains available for any party.
Bolton, no overall control (Conservative minority)
No party can win here. To win a majority of one the Labour party would need to gain 13 seats – it is defending 12 of the 20 seats up for grabs this year and attacking eight, so that obviously can’t happen. The Conservatives could mathematically win a majority as it is defending only five seats, but it would require the Tories to win ultra-safe seats that Labour held even in 2019. Ukip, who are no longer a factor, are defending two seats, and subsequent elections since then have seen the Conservatives benefit from the party’s disintegration in Bolton.
The 2019 local elections saw Liberal Democrat and independent gains, but this is the first set of elections since those independents facilitated a minority Conservative administration.
Bury, Labour held
Labour hold 10 and is attacking seven (six Conservative, one Liberal Democrat), of which it could plausibly hope to gain five. In a nightmarish night for Labour, the Conservatives could take this council or no overall control could be the outcome.
Burnley, no overall control (Burnley and Padiham Independents in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives, Ukip and the Greens)
A lot has happened since these seats were last fought in 2016. In Burnley’s municipal politics, the Burnley and Padiham Independents have emerged as a force capable of winning seats. In 2016, a still formidable Liberal Democrat party (defending five, attacking 10) had finished second to Labour (defending eight, attacking seven) having lost the parliamentary seat in 2015. The parliamentary seat is now held by the Conservatives (defending one), which got six per cent of the vote in these local elections (they polled 40 per cent in 2019’s general election in Burnley). So we can probably expect Conservative gains, Liberal Democrat losses and who knows what else.
Broxbourne, Conservative held
Fans of foregone conclusions will have much to look forward to here. The Conservative Party (defending nine, attacking one) is mathematically incapable of losing control. On a great night for Labour, the party (defending one, attacking nine) would double its representation on the council.
Calderdale, Labour held
Fairly straightforward one: Labour is defending eight and attacking nine of the seats available. If it loses two council seats the council will tip into no overall control, though Labour ought to make one or two gains all other things being equal.
Cambridge, Labour held
The Liberal Democrats (defending four, attacking ten) need to make seven gains to take control from Labour (defending nine, attacking five), while Labour would need to lose five in order to lose its majority. In reality, neither scenario is likely and Labour ought to make some small gains here. Independent John Hipkin, whose Castle ward is otherwise represented by Liberal Democrats, may well struggle given the circumstances these elections are being held in.
Cannock Chase, no overall control
This is an interesting one. Staffordshire as a whole has been steadily moving away from the Labour party, and the parliamentary seat of Cannock Chase had a large Labour to Conservative swing in 2010. Despite a series of controversies involving the former incumbent, Aidan Burley, Amanda Milling held it comfortably in 2015 and it was one of a number of Conservative seats to increase the majority in June 2017. In 2018, the only set of local elections under Jeremy Corbyn in which Labour could be said to have performed well, nonetheless saw the party lose ground in Cannock Chase.
The last year that Labour finished first in terms of votes cast was 2016, and it would probably be doing well to hold what it has here. This is another place, however, where we will probably know more about what a good Labour performance here “means” in 2024 or even 2029 than we will this year.
All in all, though, we can say with reasonable confidence that Cannock Chase, as with Staffordshire as a whole, is increasingly moving away from “marginal” status in any meaningful sense and even in good years for Labour these will be difficult contests.
Castle Point, Conservative held
A mildly diverting one, in that politics in Castle Point is increasingly dominated by two forces: the Conservative Party, who require no further introduction, and the Canvey Island Independence Party, who are campaigning for independence for Canvey Island, (from the local government structures of Castle Point, not from the United Kingdom as a whole). CIIP are the dominant force in Canvey Island by a long way, while the Conservatives are similarly unassailable across the rest of the council.
Given my expectation that this will be a difficult election for independents, we might expect the Conservatives to clean up here. However, I think that this is unlikely to happen in Castle Point: CIIP’s political success hinges on the belief that Canvey Island would be better off going its own way, making them considerably less vulnerable than independents elsewhere.
Colchester, no overall control (Labour, Liberal Democrat and independents in coalition)
The Conservatives need to pick up three seats to win a majority. No other party can win a majority. The Greens will hope to add to its gain in Castle Ward in 2019, which would further complicate the Tory path back to office in Colchester. Highwoods ward’s Independent will hope that their long-established presence (they are unbeaten in elections to Highwoods ward since 2004) will help them survive in a cold climate for independents.
Cherwell, Conservative held
The headline result (the Conservatives would have to lose an improbable number of seats to lose control in a single night) is uninteresting, but keep an eye out for how the Greens and Liberal Democrats perform. Electoral pacts and co-operation helped them both gain seats across Oxfordshire in 2019. But, whether the parties can continue to make gains alongside each other after lockdown has limited the ability of parties to campaign effectively on a local level and when “stop Brexit” is no longer a unifying rallying cry will be important.
Coventry, Labour held
Labour are defending 13 and attacking five of the 18 seats up for grabs here. Whatever happens, they will hold the council come the morning, but it has some good, fairly straightforward opportunities for gains here, including council seats that it lost to the Conservatives back in 2016.
Crawley, Labour held
Labour (defending nine, attacking four) need to lose just two seats to lose control, though in practice this traditional marginal offers good opportunities for pick-ups for the party: these were last contested in 2019 following a boundary change. Labour ought to make gains against the Conservatives (defending four, attacking nine) here.
Derby, no overall control (Conservative minority supported by Liberal Democrats and the Brexit party)
The Conservatives and Labour are both defending seven seats and attacking 10 (one held by a Brexit party councillor elected as Ukip and two held by Liberal Democrats). The Conservatives need to gain seven seats to run the council without relying on the support of other parties, Labour need 10. Neither is in practice likely to do so. Sizable Ukip votes will likely benefit the Conservatives, but the most likely event is stasis.
Dudley, no overall control (Conservative run)
Labour, who is defending 14 seats and attacking 11, need to gain one seat to win control of the council. The Conservative Party, who is defending 10 seats and attacking 15, need to win two. You’d rather be in the Conservatives’ shoes here, though: there are more genuine pick-up opportunities among Labour’s 14 than the Tory 10, and there was a sizable Ukip vote here in 2016.
Eastleigh, Liberal Democrat held
The Liberal Democrats are dominant here. This is the first time these seats have been contested since the 2018 boundary changes, but the party ought to maintain its stranglehold on local politics unless something has gone very badly wrong.
Elmbridge (Independents in coalition with Liberal Democrats)
This is a fun one. Like a lot of true-blue Conservative parliamentary seats in the Home Counties, local politics has become a battle between a diverse coalition of local resident associations, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats (in that order).
My expectation is that the Conservatives will make gains in places like this simply because it is a very difficult time to be an independent candidate, even if the government’s vaccine bounce has fully unwound by this point, which also seems unlikely. But let’s say that if any of the impact of Rishi Sunak’s pretty austere budget has started to have political consequences, I think we still ought to see significant Conservative gains in places such as Elmbridge because of the logistical challenges of the pandemic. However, I wouldn’t read much into it if this doesn’t happen: it just tells us that local independents are more durable than I think.
Epping Forest, Conservative held
The Conservative Party (defending 12, attacking 10) is dominant here, with the exception of the Loughton Residents Association (defending eight, who represent – this may shock you – residents in the Loughton area (which means in practice they are just attacking one seat). Well-concentrated Labour, Liberal Democrat and Greens make up the remainder but have limited opportunities for gains other than in wave years.
Epping Forest is somewhere that could see Conservative gains in quite a big way, in that national parties can afford direct mail and Zoom parties for phonebanking on a scale that the Loughton Residents’ Association and their ilk simply cannot. I wouldn’t be shocked if we saw big gains in places like this as a result.
Exeter, Labour held
Labour ought to remain in control here, with the Greens hoping to build on gains here. This is also a good test of whether Keir Starmer’s appeal to Liberal Democrat voters, as seen in the polling, is translating to gains from the Liberal Democrats in the real world.
Harlow, Labour control
Labour (defending seven, attacking four) is in a straight shoot-out with the Conservatives (defending four, attacking seven). The Conservatives need to make four gains to win control. A large Ukip vote last time these were contested, though recent elections in the same areas have seen both parties benefit fairly evenly from Ukip’s collapse in Harlow.
Hart, no overall control (Liberal Democrats in coalition with Community Campaign Hart)
The local Liberal Democrats and local independent party Community Campaign Hart run the council together and do not run against each other in seats they hold. They are defending six of the 11 seats up for grabs and attacking five (Liberal Democrats hold three, CCH hold three). The Conservatives (attacking six, defending five) cannot win control of the council but will hope that a difficult political backdrop for independents and minor parties makes Hart a happy Tory hunting ground.
Havant, Conservative controlled
The Conservatives (defending 11, attacking three) cannot lose control here. The biggest gains both they and Labour (defending one, attacking 13) will be eyeing will be the two seats Ukip won in 2016.
Hyndburn, Labour controlled
Labour (defending ten, attacking two) cannot lose control here, but you’d assume that the Conservatives (defending two, attacking ten) might be able to gain a few just because the party now has a sitting MP.
Ipswich, Labour controlled
Fairly straightforward one this: a traditional marginal where Labour (defending 13, attacking four) have one good opportunity and one stretch-target against the Conservatives (defending three, attacking 14), while the Liberal Democrats (defending one) ought to hold what they have in the council’s one Lib-Con contest. Labour would have to lose 10 seats to lose its majority – no other party can win a majority and Labour ought to at least hold on to what it has here.
Mole Valley, Liberal Democrat, with independent support
While the Liberal Democrats (defending five, attacking five) run the council, like many Surrey councils, there is a significant local independent presence here, with the Ashtead Independents (defending four), against whom the Liberal Democrats did not stand last time. If the Ashtead Independents struggle in what may be a cold climate for independents, that will be to the benefit of the Conservatives (defending five, attacking nine).
North Hertfordshire, no overall control (Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition)
The Conservatives (defending seven, attacking eight) need to gain four seats for control. Local politics here in practice is contested in two separate areas: Hitchin and Letchworth, where the Conservatives and Labour (defending six, attacking nine) compete for power, and the remainder of the local authority area, where the Conservatives compete with the Liberal Democrats (defending two, attacking 13). The third up for election is heavily dominated by areas where Labour does well, and on a good night for the opposition it would add one or two to its tally, while on a good night for the Tories the Conservatives would grab one or two from Labour.
Kirklees, no overall control (Labour run)
Labour need to gain three seats to win the council. They are defending 12 of the 23 up for grabs this time, but of the 11 they do not hold, only three are plausible targets. So they need everything to fall their way here.
Kingston-upon-Hull, Labour run
A fairly straightforward one this: municipal politics in Hull has long been a Labour vs Liberal Democrat battle, and these seats (last contested in wake of boundary changes) aren’t enough for control to change hands, and are somewhere Labour ought to make a few gains at the Liberal Democrats expense.
Leeds, Labour held
Labour, who are defending 21 of the 33 seats up for grabs this time, would need to lose 11 to tip the council into no overall control. The party won’t, but local politics has become more fissiparous since 2016, with various local independents making headway in addition to an expanded Green presence.
Manchester, Labour held
Labour are defending 31 seats and attacking one. A Labour council is guaranteed no matter what, even if the party were somehow to lose every seat. John Leech’s personal vote means it is hard to see, even allowing for the strides Keir Starmer has made into the Liberal Democrat vote, how you wouldn’t expect this to stay the same even on a very good night for Labour. On a good night for the Liberal Democrats, the party would pick up a third and fourth councillor.
North East Lincolnshire, Conservative held
The Conservatives (defending three, attacking nine) will lose its majority if it loses just one seat. That said, you’d back them to increase rather than decrease their representation here: the party has gained seats on the back of Ukip’s implosion at local elections in both 2018 (Jeremy Corbyn’s best set of local election results) and in 2019 (a horror year for the Conservatives). Labour (defending seven, attacking five) is mathematically incapable of winning control of the council. The Liberal Democrats (defending two, attacking ten) also compete for seats here.
Oldham, Labour held
This council can’t change hands – a total Labour wipe out in the 15 seats they are defending would still leave Labour with a majority on the council. (Also, this won’t happen!) Labour are attacking five. Ukip polled 15 per cent here in 2016 and in some wards it is sizable enough to potentially cause surprising results.
Peterborough, no overall control (Conservative minority)
Back in 2016, Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats competed with not only local independents but one of the remaining organised bastions of the Liberal Party – the breakaway that refused to merge with the Social Democratic Party to form the Liberal Democrats in 1988. Large Ukip votes last time these seats were contested in 2016 ought to make this a site of gains for the Conservative Party, which needs to make five gains to win a majority. Labour, meanwhile, have tended to be the main beneficiary in seats the Liberal Party no longer contest and will hope to continue that.
Preston, Labour control
Labour (defending 11, attacking eight) is defending wards last won in the 2019 boundary changes. It would need to lose six for the council to tip into no overall control, though this would of course only happen in the event of either a nationwide political disaster or some kind of local scandal. There are few plausible gains from either the Conservatives (defending six, attacking 13) or the Liberal Democrats (defending two, attacking 17) after a pretty successful night for the party locally in 2019.
Reigate and Banstead, Conservative held
The Conservative Party (defending 12, attacking five) is dominant here and will remain so. But as is typical for Surrey, there is a significant independent presence, with three of the five non-Conservative seats held by localist parties of one kind or another. The Liberal Democrats and Greens, at one apiece, make up the remainder of seats.
Rochford, Conservative held
Dominant Conservatives face up against a series of independents. Not particularly interesting other than as another source of gains for the party if this set of elections sees a collapse in independent support.
Rossendale, Labour held
This is an interesting one, as 2016 was the last good set of local elections for Labour in Rossendale, and as a result, Labour (defending ten, attacking two) would need to lose three seats to lose its majority, while the Conservatives (defending two, attacking ten) would need to gain five.
Even in 2018 (the only decent set of local elections the Labour party got under Jeremy Corbyn) Labour went backwards here and the parliamentary constituency of Rossendale and Darwen is part of the set of Conservative 2010 gains that increased their majority at the 2017 general election.
That said, this is also one of the councils where the third that is up changes slightly every year, so that in part reflects that Corbyn’s best locals nationwide coincided with the less favourable set of council wards for Labour in Rossendale.
This is one of the parts of the country that appears to be moving towards the Tories in good years and bad, so we will genuinely learn something from these results: though we won’t really understand what we’ve learnt until the next election at the earliest.
Rushmoor, Conservative controlled
The Conservative Party (defending eight, attacking five) is mathematically incapable of losing its majority in this one, even if Labour (defending four, attacking nine) were to pull off something unexpected. Ukip, who are defending one councillor, had a very high vote here which ought to further pad the Conservative margin this time around.
Runnymede, Conservative controlled
What is rock-solid safe for the Conservatives (defending 13, attacking two) but tends to be dotted with local independents (Runnymede Independent Residents Group, defending two) Answer: it’s a council in Surrey! (Please, Mole Valley Liberal Democrats, do not get in touch to correct me on this.)
Rugby, Conservative controlled
An odd one this. The parliamentary seat moved towards Labour (defending three, attacking 11) in 2016 but Labour actually went backwards on their result in 2018. The Conservatives (defending seven, attacking seven) would need to lose three seats to lose its majority, though this is unlikely.
Southend-on-Sea, no overall control (Labour-Liberal Democrat-Independent coalition)
Southend-on-Sea has since 2014 alternated power between Labour-led coalitions and the Conservatives, whose dominance in the area is waning due to demographic and political trends (it is one of a swathe of areas in the south where the Conservative majority is the same size or smaller in 2019 than it was in 2015 or 2010). We should expect some gains for the coalition parties. The Conservative Party, who is defending eight and attacking nine of the seats up for grabs this time, require six gains to form a majority – that is in practice unlikely. No other party has enough seats to be able to govern alone even if they were to sweep all the seats up for grabs.
St Albans, no overall control
The Liberal Democrats (defending six, attacking 12) need to gain five seats to win control of the council while the Conservatives (defending seven, attacking 11) need to gain seven. But for the Liberal Democrats there’s another prize on offer, which is to consolidate their claim to be the main anti-Conservative alternative in an area that has seen notable volatility at a parliamentary level and where politics at a local level is divided between not only themselves and the Conservatives but Labour (defending three, attacking 15) and the Greens (defending one, attacking 17).
Stevenage, Labour held
Labour (defending 10, attacking three) would need to lose six seats to lose its majority. Neither the Conservatives (defending two, attacking 11) or the Liberal Democrats (defending one, attacking 12) are mathematically capable of becoming the largest party or winning a majority. Labour ought to make a handful of further gains here.
Tandridge, no overall control (Conservative in coalition with independents)
The Conservatives (defending eight, attacking six) cannot win a majority on the council, though the party will find it more valuable if they do so at the expense of the Liberal Democrats (defending five, attacking nine), rather the independents (defending one) that they share power with.
Tameside, Labour held
Tameside can’t change hands even if Labour were to lose all 18 of the seats it is defending. In practice, of the two Conservative seats up for grabs, only one is a plausible target. A bit of a weird one this as there was a sizable Ukip vote in 2016. Worth watching: the Greens gained a seat in Ashton Waterloo in 2019 and will hope to be able to build on that by doing the same again this year – they were a distant third in 2016 when this seat was up but a lot has changed since then.
Tamworth, Conservative held
A pretty familiar Staffordshire story this one: the parliamentary seat was Labour (defending two, attacking eight) until 2010, and has swung to the Conservatives (defending six, attacking four) at every election since, even in June 2017. Labour haven’t won any election of any description here since 2012, and even then it underperformed (finishing just four points ahead of the Conservatives on a night they were ahead seven points nationwide). The Conservatives ought to pick up the two Ukip seats here and on a good night for them pick up one of the Labour seats.
As with a lot of the Staffordshire council seats, it’s hard to have an accurate gauge as to what is a “good” result for Labour in this part of the country (in that respect it’s a bit like London but in reverse) ahead of time but we’ll be able to use this set of elections as a semi-useful benchmark after the fact.
Three Rivers, Liberal Democrat held
One of those odd parts of the country where Liberal Democrat (defending eight, attacking seven) dominance locally has never led to success at a parliamentary level. You’d expect that to continue unless something has gone very wrong for the party, or the conditions of politics in lockdown are particularly dangerous for the Liberal Democrats.
Thurrock, Conservative held
So, this is gonna be a wild one: Ukip won the local elections in 2016, and since then, Tim Aker, once considered to be the rising man in the party, has successfully managed to be re-elected as the leader of the Thurrock Independents. However, the party has thus far failed to win seats when Aker himself is not the candidate, though it managed to poll a healthy 21 per cent of the vote across the borough in 2018. Expect gains from Ukip by both parties, as has become the norm in Thurrock since 2016, though the Thurrock Independents may complicate things one way or the other. The Conservatives, who are defending seven and attacking 10 of the seats, would need to lose five to lose its majority, while Labour, who is defending four and attacking 13, would need to win nine to gain control.
Trafford, Labour held
While the Conservatives couldn’t plausibly retake Trafford overnight here – they are defending nine of the 21 seats up for grabs – on a disastrous night for Labour the council could shift back to no overall control. You would expect Labour to pick up a few more seats from the Conservatives. The Greens will be looking to repeat their by-election success in Altrincham in 2019, where they now hold all of the seats in the ward.
Knowsley, Labour held
Labour cannot lose control, and is defending 42 of the 45 seats up for grabs from 2016. But the success of Independents and Greens in elections since then may throw up some surprises.
Lincoln, Labour held
This is fairly straightforward: these were last up on new boundaries in 2016, a number of split wards (that is, wards electing both Labour and Conservative councillors) means Labour should pick up a few gains in your classic example of a “council in a marginal area where the national opposition party should make gains”.
Liverpool, Labour held
Labour cannot lose control here. But you’d assume – given that the incumbent Labour mayor, Joe Anderson, has resigned from his post following his arrest on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation and that there’s a division within the local party after Labour HQ intervened to remove all three shortlisted candidates for the Labour nomination from contention – that the Greens, who have added to their representation here in recent years, and the Liberal Democrats, who ran the council from 1998 and 2010, ought to make gains. (And frankly, if they can’t, that would suggest something has gone very wrong for those parties in Liverpool and/or nationwide.)
Labour is defending 27 of the 30 seats up for grabs so the two parties should have plenty of opportunities for gains. The Liverpool mayoralty, which Labour ought to hold, is also up for grabs. Divisions in the local Labour Party due to aforementioned divisions and controversies means that a Labour victory may now be in doubt.
Maidstone, no overall control
The Conservatives (defending seven, attacking 12) need to gain four to win control, the Liberal Democrats need to gain seven (defending eight, attacking 11). Everyone else is superfluous to the main prize: two independents may be particularly vulnerable due to the circumstances.
Milton Keynes, no overall control (Labour minority with Liberal Democrat support)
Labour (defending ten, attacking ten) needs to make six gains to win a majority. But the path to control is complicated somewhat by the fact that five of the seats that are up this time that are not Labour are held by the Liberal Democrats, who support them in local government.
Norwich, Labour held
Boundary changes mean these were last up in 2019 – a set of local elections where the Liberal Democrats (defending one, attacking 12) and the Greens (defending three, attacking ten) were riding high as the main parties shed votes over Brexit. An interesting test, particularly for the Liberal Democrats against Labour (defending nine, attacking four), and also of the extent to which the Greens’ poll position can be made to count in contests like these. With eight losses Labour would lose their majority. No other party is mathematically capable of winning full control.
Portsmouth, no overall control (Liberal Democrat minority)
Well. A lot has changed here since these seats were up. In 2016, the Conservatives held both seats and the Liberal Democrats were the second-placed party in Portsmouth South. Since then, Labour not only won Portsmouth South from third place in June 2017 but held it in 2019. No one can plausibly win control here (the Liberal Democrats, who are defending eight of the seats and attacking six, need five gains for control – everyone else is mathematically certain not to retain control). All things being equal you’d assume both Labour and Conservative gains.
Plymouth Council, Labour held
Labour (defending 11, attacking eight) need to lose just two council seats to lose their majority. The Conservatives (attacking 11, defending eight) cannot win control. A sizable and in some places well-concentrated Ukip vote makes this a possible location for Conservative gains.
Reading, Labour held
Labour, who are defending 11 seats and attacking five, would lose their majority if they lost seven, but that is essentially impossible. They are attacking five (three Conservative, one Green, one Liberal Democrat). The Greens will hope to build on more successful results in 2019.
Rochdale, Labour held
Labour cannot lose control here. They are defending 16 seats and attacking four (three Conservative, one Liberal Democrat) but a sizable Ukip vote and Conservative success at parliamentary level may mean that the Labour contingent is reduced here.
Rugby, Conservative held
The Conservatives (defending seven, attacking seven) cannot lose control here. Labour will hope to make some gains.
Redditch, Conservative held
This traditional marginal is less interesting this time around because Labour (defending seven, attacking two) needs to gain four seats to win control and the Conservatives would need to lose four for that to happen. As that is mathematically impossible, not much is likely to happen here: the change in voting patterns resulted in a single Labour loss in 2018, so Labour would be doing well if they hold all seven, and pretty poorly if they lost more than one.
Salford, Labour held
Labour cannot lose control here. Although the Ukip vote is not unsubstantial here, it is not well-concentrated, which make Conservative gains unlikely. However, it will likely reinforce the party’s position in the two seats it is defending.
Slough, Labour held
Labour (defending 12 and attacking two) has a good shout at picking up both or either of the two seats the Conservatives are defending. But it is essentially assured of retaining control of the council no matter what.
Sandwell, Labour held
This is an interesting one that sums up a lot of the weirdness of what would have been the “2016-2020” local elections. Labour holds every seat on the council including the 24 up for grabs this time, making the party mathematically certain to run Sandwell after these elections. But since 2016, the two parliamentary constituencies have both gone Conservative and by fairly large margins. If the local MPs are remotely well-organised there ought to be some Tory gains here, and potentially some substantial ones.
Solihull, Conservative held
The Conservatives (defending nine, attacking eight) can lose control if they lose just one seat, and there is plenty of additional intrigue in this council too. One of the more interesting subplots in local politics has been the emergence of the Greens as the second force in local councils in true-blue seats or – in the case of Solihull – one-time Conservative-Liberal Democrat battlegrounds. They have good prospects for gains here: the Conservatives are defending the last Castle Bromwich seat not to have fallen to the Greens, while the Liberal Democrats and Labour may also eat into their representation. A Green-led coalition is probably the most likely outcome here, though any number of possible administrations are possible.
Southampton, Labour held
This one is pretty routine. Labour is defending 12 and attacking six: it ought to pick up one or two. Labour would have to lose five to lose their majority, the Conservatives would need seven gains: in practice, neither is likely.
Stockport, no overall control
Either Labour or the Liberal Democrats need to gain six seats for control of the council – the Liberal Democrats are defending nine and Labour eight of the 21 seats up for grabs. In practice, there are only a handful of genuine targets for either party, and you’d favour the Liberal Democrats who, in addition to their direct Labour-Liberal Democrat battlegrounds (in practice both parties are defending one vulnerable seat from each other), have good pick-up opportunities from the Conservatives. Well-established local independents in Heald Green further complicate the hope either party has of significant gains here.
St Helens, Labour held
Labour, who are defending 15 of 17 seats, cannot lose control but only really have one meaningful pick-up opportunity (and even then, it’s probably a bit of a stretch).
Sefton, Labour held
Labour, defending 12 and attacking 11 of the seats up for grabs this time, cannot lose control here but will hope to make gains at the expense of the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and independent councillors elected in part due to their opposition to plans to build on the green belt.
Swindon, Conservative held
The Conservatives (defending nine, attacking ten) will lose their majority if they lose just one seat, while Labour (defending nine, attacking ten) need to gain four to win control. The presence of a single solitary Liberal Democrat means this council is only a Green councillor away from being a near-perfect microcosm of English politics. Should be a nail-biter.
Tunbridge Wells, Conservative held
Comfortably win this one, the Conservatives (defending 13, attacking three) will. Doing well to hold what they have, the Liberal Democrats (defending two, attacking 14) and Labour (defending one, attacking 15) will be. Speaking like Yoda to add some interest to this otherwise tedious result, I am. Local independents did well in 2019, but my expectation is that this will be a tough election for independents across the country.
Wakefield, Labour held
Labour is defending 19 of the 21 seats up for grabs here, but both of the remaining two seats are credible targets. More recent elections have brought gains for independents and Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats have in the past shown they can quickly dominate in a ward once they have one council and they will hope to do the same here.
Like neighbouring Three Rivers, this is an area where the Liberal Democrats have emerged as the dominant force locally despite failing to make a breakthrough at a parliamentary level. All things being equal that should continue.
Walsall, Conservative held
Walsall used to be an oddity – marginal at a local authority level, but reliably Labour outside of wave years for the Conservative Party. Now it has one Conservative MP in the shape of Eddie Hughes, first elected in 2017, and one Labour MP in the shape of Valerie Vaz. Labour (defending ten, attacking ten) need to gain five seats to win control, while the Conservatives (defending seven, attacking 13) need to lose two for the council to slip into no overall control. In practice, there simply aren’t that many vulnerable Tory seats up this time, so no overall control is the most likely result here.
Welwyn Hatfield, no overall control
The Conservatives need one gain to regain control, but what we’d expect to see here is a further erosion of their position to the benefit of Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Labour (defending 12, attacking six) would need to lose two seats to lose their majority while the Conservatives (defending five, attacking 13) would need to gain eight. Complicating what would otherwise be your classic “marginal council where Labour should make gains” picture is Our West Lancashire (defending one, attacking 17), a local independent party which did well in the elections of 2018 and 2019.
Woking, Conservative held
Your classic Surrey story: a big Conservative presence, with the Liberal Democrats a distant threat, then localised independents, this time in Byfleet, and last of all, Labour. The Liberal Democrats will hope to make one or two gains here but it’s an uninteresting place, electorally speaking.
Wokingham, Conservative held
This is an interesting one – a huge Conservative majority that we would, in previous years, expect to stay that way. But the Liberal Democrats mounted a good campaign for a strong second place in the 2019 general elections and made big forward strides here in the local elections of the same year. It would be a good sign for the Liberal Democrats if they could pick up a few more councillors here. The Conservatives, who are defending 15 and attacking just four of the seats up for grabs, would need to lose an improbable six to lose their majority.
Worcester, no overall control (Conservative-Labour grand coalition)
Welcome to Worcester, where the Conservatives (defending three, attacking nine) have the leader and Labour (defending seven, attacking five) the deputy leader. Both parties need to pick up three seats to win control – that one of those seats is held by a Green in Conservative territory makes it tricky to see how either party will pull it off, though this is another place where the change in voting behaviour since 2016, when these seats were last fought, has slightly tilted things towards the Tories. But not to the point where the Conservatives should be able to win control unless they are having a good night and Labour a bad one.
Worthing, Conservative held
This is an interesting one. The Conservatives (defending 11, attacking two) need to lose five seats to lose their majority, which on the 2016 results alone would look improbable. But take a look at the 2018 and 2019 local results and the swing to Labour at the parliamentary level here, and it is likely that Labour (defending zero, attacking 13) could make significant gains, though probably not enough to pick up the nine they need to win control of the council.
Wigan, Labour held
While Labour is mathematically incapable of losing control here, defending 19 of the 25 seats up for grabs, the presence of a 15 per cent Ukip vote and a well-organised group of independents may make for some intriguing results.
Winchester, Liberal Democrat controlled
The Liberal Democrats have continued their revival here since these seats were last contested and they really ought to post further gains if they are to progress in what must surely be their number one target at the next general election.
Wirral, no overall control
Labour (defending 14 seats and attacking nine) needs to pick up an extra four to take back full control. Potential complicated factors include the gains made by the Greens in recent elections, but Labour will hope that the changes in British politics since 2016 will ultimately work in its favour.
Wolverhampton, Labour control
Labour is defending 18 of the 20 seats up for grabs, with the Conservatives defending the remainder. Labour cannot lose control and is not likely to do so. The council stretches over the perennial marginal of Wolverhampton South West (Labour 1997, Conservative 2010, Labour 2015, Conservative 2019), stretch Conservative target Wolverhampton North East (Conservative 1987, Labour 1992, Conservative 2019) and safe Labour seat of Wolverhampton South East. However Labour did very badly here in the 2019 general election, so it’s worth watching to see if we are seeing a genuine trend away from the party here.
Sheffield, Labour control
Labour needs to lose just three of the 15 seats it is defending to tip this council into no overall control. The Liberal Democrats (defending 11) would need to take all 15 plus the one Green seat that is up for grabs this time. Neither is likely. The Liberal Democrats and Greens have consistently made gains in the city since these seats were last contested. Ukip are nominally defending their last seat on Sheffield Council.
Gateshead, Labour control
Labour cannot lose as even losing all 17 seats they are defending would not be enough for the Liberal Democrats (who are defending five). Local elections here have been a consistent pattern of Labour dominance with Liberal Democrats in second place, despite growing Conservative strength at a parliamentary level.
Newcastle, Labour control
Labour cannot lose control here, but it’s an intriguing one nonetheless. Local politics in Newcastle has long been a Labour-Liberal Democrat battle, though multiple factions of warring independents are also on the council. Newcastle First, one of four independent groups, got its first councillor elected in 2019 and will be seeking to add more to the tally.
North Tyneside, Labour control
Labour cannot lose control. It is defending 17 and attacking three of the 20 seats up for grabs, though in practice only two of those three are credible targets. The Conservatives, who have two good prospects for gains, will hope that the reconfiguration of the Ukip vote since 2016 will help them here. The North Tyneside mayoralty, which Labour ought to hold comfortably, is also up for re-election.
South Tyneside, Labour control
Labour is defending all 18 seats. Consolidation of the Ukip vote under the Conservatives may result in some Tory gains, while the Greens, who won the Beacon and Bents seat in 2019, will be looking to repeat that success this year. Independents elected in 2019 may similarly be hoping to elect a likeminded colleague in their wards.
Sunderland, Labour control
A council for which the euphemism “specific local factors at play” could have been invented. Questions over the council’s competence and the activities of some councillors have surely been a bigger contributing factor than any national picture in the success of the Liberal Democrats in recent years, who have largely run away from the central party’s anti-Brexit positioning. The local Liberal Democrats will hope to continue to benefit from those local factors, while the Conservatives will hope that the changing political map since 2016 will boost them also. Labour, who believe the council has improved, albeit from a low bar, will hope that this set of local elections will be better for them.
West Oxfordshire, Conservative controlled
The Conservatives are dominant; that isn’t going to change in these elections. Zzzzz.
Half the seats up
Adur, Conservative held
What’s the point of this council? It’s so small that a) it has to share key functions with Worthing and b) it just produces perverse outcomes thanks to trying to run first past the post through it. Get rid of it.
Unlikely to produce anything but a Conservative majority but not impossible that the correct set of results could produce something comically disproportionate in the other direction. I wouldn’t really waste much time analysing this one.
Cheltenham, Liberal Democrat held
The Liberal Democrats (defending 15, attacking five) should emerge as the borough’s dominant force locally once again against the Conservatives (defending three, attacking 17). A cold climate for minor parties and independents may be a challenging one for the People Against Bureaucracy Group (defending one).
Fareham, Conservative held
Very little to see here: Conservatives (defending 12, attacking four) dominate. The Liberal Democrats (defending three, attacking 13) have one or two possible gains, though they will be aware that they have a vulnerability of their own in Portchester East. The lone Ukip seat will look appealing to both parties.
Gosport, Conservative held
The Conservatives are the dominant force here – at least as far as votes are concerned. But recent elections have been fairly volatile in terms of results, and the Conservatives (defending ten, attacking seven) need to lose just one seat to lose their majority. The Liberal Democrats will hope to repeat their seat-winning heroics from 2018, when a well-targeted campaign saw them sweep up seats while gaining very few votes.
Hastings, Labour held
Labour (defending 14, attacking three) having two decent-ish targets against the Conservatives (defending four, attacking 12) but the Greens may complicate matters by picking up a ward from Labour. Labour would need to lose eight to lose its majority, the Conservatives would need to gain eight. Neither outcome is likely.
Nuneaton and Bedworth, no overall control (Labour minority)
Labour (defending 12, attacking six) need to make one gain to win control of the council without depending on the support of the sole Green (defending one, attacking 17). But it may be a better night for the Conservatives (defending five, attacking 13).
Thanks to the 2018 local elections, we have a good idea of which party is best placed to benefit from a Ukip collapse, and it was the Conservatives. Holding or gaining seats here would be a good sign that Labour is winning votes in the places it needs to win rather than piling them up in safe seats.
Basingstoke and Deane, no overall control (Conservative minority)
The Conservatives need to gain just one seat to win back the council, but it’s the type of place Labour should be gaining ground in, as it is both trending towards them and Labour’s vote is well-distributed to make gains –and that boundary changes mean all the seats are up for grabs means that it is a good stretch target for them. Labour will hope to show that the Liberal Democrats’ strong win of four seats in 2019 was only a blip. Complicating matters: a split in the local Labour group, with some leaving to form the Independent Forum, who in normal times would be well-placed to hold their seats. It remains to be seen if the lockdown makes this a very tough time for independents, though.
Bristol, Labour held
The emergence of a metro mayor for Bath and Bristol has seen debate about whether to scrap the Bristol mayoralty, but the pandemic meant those debates have been put on hold. Marvin Rees, the Labour incumbent, should be re-elected comfortably, while the party should remain in control at a council level. However, internal Labour rows over the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn have reached a particularly high pitch here, with members suspended. All things being equal that should facilitate at least some gains by the other parties of the left, be it the Greens or the Liberal Democrats, both of which have a strong presence here. The absence of George Ferguson, the independent who served as the city’s mayor until 2016, from the mayoral race also provides the opportunity for one of the Greens or Liberal Democrats to stake a definitive claim to be the main left-wing alternative to Labour in the city.
Buckinghamshire, Conservative held
It doesn’t get less exciting than this. Could Labour soar to the heights of two councillors? Maybe. Could the Liberal Democrats get as many as six? Perhaps. Will the Conservatives remain hegemonic no matter what? Yes.
Cambridge, Labour held
Boundary changes mean all up elections here, in what is predominantly a Labour-Liberal Democrat battle. Labour will hope the forward strides made by the Liberal Democrats and Greens in 2019 were a one-off affair, whiel the Liberal Democrats and Greens will of course hope the opposite.
Cambridgeshire, Conservative held
This contest is an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats and for Labour. For the Liberal Democrats, this is a chance to replicate and entrench their good performances in Cambridgeshire in other local elections and their near-misses at a parliamentary level. For Labour, it’s a chance to make gains after a very bad set of results here in the 2017 local elections.
Cornwall, no overall control (Liberal Democrat in coalition with independents)
Quite a lot going on here: the Liberal Democrats have remained a strong force at a county council presence, even as they have vanished as challengers to the Conservatives at a parliamentary level.
But the Conservatives have two routes to control here: the first is just to sweep up independents in what I think will likely be a very hard set of elections for independents in general, while the second is just to take seats off the Liberal Democrats directly. As for the Liberal Democrats, they should aim to make gains and maintain their status as Cornwall’s second party, albeit one heavily diminished over the past decade.
Chorley, Labour held
This one is interesting, because Chorley – the seat of the Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle – would surely have gone blue in 2019 had Hoyle not become Speaker. It’s therefore somewhere we’d expect the Conservatives to gain ground given the various changes in British politics in recent years. But that the incumbent MP is still Labour might mean that we get an unusual result in Chorley. Boundary changes mean that all of them are up this year.
Derbyshire, Conservative held
The Conservatives were cruising to a landslide when these local elections were held in May 2017, so really, Labour ought to make gains here even on a sub-par evening – they polled just 27 per cent in May 2017, in what is a fairly straightforward Conservative-Labour battle (with a small Liberal Democrat rump).
Devon, Conservative held
A stretch target for the Liberal Democrats, once a strong force here, and now a distant second. Though they have little prospect of winning the council, they will hope to make gains on 2017.
Doncaster, Labour held
Labour hold 43 of the 55 seats in addition to the mayoralty here, though since the 2017 elections they have lost the Don Valley seat while the Conservatives came close in both Doncaster North and Doncaster Central. A big test of the party’s ability to retain councillors in places it lost in 2019.
Durham, Labour held
A fascinating mixed bag this: on the one hand, these elections were last fought at the absolute nadir of Jeremy Corbyn’s electoral fortunes, in May 2017, so Labour surely makes gains at the expense of the Conservatives and independents. On the other hand, since then, the Conservatives have won three of the five parliamentary seats. This is somewhere that may tell us a lot about the current state of politics.
If, on a good night for the opposition, Labour holds its ground or makes gains, then that will suggest the 2019 election was primarily a bad election result, which Labour may recover from. If on a good night, Labour makes losses, then it will suggest 2019, at least in County Durham, was a story of realignment – and one that Labour may struggle to recover from ever.
Or, you know, it could just be that it’s a night on which the Tories do well everywhere due to the vaccine bounce and we learn absolutely nothing about anything.
Essex, Conservative held
The Conservatives are dominant here and will remain so, and Essex was a rare site of Labour gains in May 2017. Labour will hope to pick up one or two at the expense of the Liberal Democrats. As for the potential for Conservative gains, Essex was a rare exception to the 2017 story of Ukip wipe-out, with well-organised local parties and Ukip candidates turned independents doing a good job of holding on in a very bad cycle for Ukip. However, it will surely be an even worse set of elections for Ukip than 2017 proved, which could mean the Conservatives may yet make further gains.
Gloucester, Conservative held
All 39 seats (Conservatives 22, Labour ten, Liberal Democrats seven) are up for grabs. A good opportunity for Labour and the Liberal Democrats to make gains.
Gloucestershire, Conservative held
Though the Conservatives ought to remain in control here, it is an opportunity for Liberal Democrat and particularly Labour gains after the 2017 results.
Hartlepool, no overall control
The whole council is up on new boundaries, pitting a complex array of independents and far-right groupuscules against the conventional national parties. That the Hartlepool by-election is being held on the same day may make it a better environment for the Conservatives and Labour than it otherwise would be, or it may inspire an independent candidate to run for the parliamentary seat.
Halton, Labour held
Fans of foregone conclusions and Labour victories should have plenty to enjoy here, where the whole council is up on new boundaries.
Hampshire, Conservative held
The Liberal Democrats will hope for a handful of gains here on a great night for the party, otherwise, a byword for tedium, with the Conservatives likely to do very well.
Hertfordshire, Conservative held
Although the Conservatives should remain in control here unless heading to epochal defeat, Labour and the Liberal Democrats should make some gains compared to the 2017 local elections.
Isle of Wight, Conservative held
The Isle of Wight has always been more fertile territory for independent candidates than the rest of the United Kingdom, though the Conservatives ought to retain their control. The ones to watch are the Greens: in the 2019 general election they went backwards, albeit only slightly, for the first time after years of constant improvement.
Kent, Conservative held
Labour ought to make some gains here after their losses in the 2017 local elections.
Lancashire, Conservative held
A fairly standard Conservative-Labour marginal, where Labour ought to make gains following a bad set of elections in May 2017. Both parties will hope the pandemic means the successful independent party, Our West Lancashire, which has seen its success grow since these elections were fought, are stymied by the pandemic.
Leicestershire, Conservative held
The Conservatives are well out in front, with the Liberal Democrats in second place in seats not votes, but this is one of a number of county councils where Labour should be able to make gains on 2017.
Lincolnshire, Conservative held
The Conservatives hold 58 of the 70 seats after their 2017 success, and the collapse of Ukip has benefited them, but Labour and the Liberal Democrats ought to make some gains here after the 2017 elections, when both parties were routed by Theresa May’s Conservatives.
A newly created unitary authority after Northamptonshire’s effective bankruptcy.
Nottinghamshire, Conservatives in coalition with independents
A Conservative-Labour battle, where the Labour Party ought to make gains coming off the back of a very bad set of election results in 2017. A slew of independents may complicate things slightly but not significantly.
Northumberland, Conservative held
This is one of Labour’s best pick-up opportunities: lost on a bad night in 2017, having won it in 2013, they ought to be able to take it back on a decent night for the party nationally.
Norfolk, Conservative held
An interesting one this. Against a backdrop of general losses, Labour made gains here at the expense of the Greens in 2017. The Greens will hope to regain those against Starmer, while Labour will hope that it can retain its against-the-tide gains.
Oxford, Labour held
Boundary changes means that these are all up: Labour ought to win and win comfortably and the lockdown may mean they are flattered by low-turnout wins in student wards, in what would otherwise be a big test of Keir Starmer’s ability to win well in areas that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour did well even in disappointing years like 2016.
Oxfordshire, Conservative held
Labour should make gains here, which despite being an area of comparative strength in the 2017 local elections still resulted in losses for the party.
Pendle, no overall control (Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition)
The Conservatives need to make two gains to win control of the council. Labour need nine gains, which would be unlikely but possible. That Labour and the Liberal Democrat who are currently in coalition, have few wards they need to compete with one another may simplify matters for all three parties this year.
Rotherham, Labour held
This is going to be a wild one. Labour remains in possession of a large majority thanks to the vagaries of first past the post (and Ukip’s historic inability to turn votes into seats in first-past-the-post contests) despite a very close contest between the party and Ukip in terms of votes cast in 2016.
Obviously a lot has happened in British politics since 2016, and the Conservatives came close to winning the parliamentary seat in 2019. But the Conservative Party finished a distant third in 2016 and has no councillors, and I have no reliable gauge of the quality of its local infrastructure.
Staffordshire, Conservative held
The Conservatives will likely remain in control here for a very long time, as Staffordshire has been getting bluer year on year in both good and bad years for the Tories. That said, because the 2017 local elections were a very bad year for Labour, they should still be able to make some gains here, though the irony is that what was seen as a disappointing performance here in 2013 might well now be a high water mark.
Stroud, (no overall control, Labour in coalition with the Greens and Liberal Democrats)
Just seven points separated the first place Conservatives (23 seats) from the third-placed Greens (eight seats). Second-placed Labour (18 seats) ought to make gains here, though the Greens will hope to continue to strengthen in Stroud, while the Liberal Democrats (two seats) will hope that their 2019 alliance with the Greens bears fruit in this contest.
Suffolk, Conservative held
Could go one of two ways: while it should remain Conservative-held in all but extraordinary circumstances, there is still enough Ukip vote floating around here that you can see how they might make even more gains, though the various anti-Conservative parties will hope to nibble away at the margins.
Surrey, Conservative held
Welcome to Surrey, where the Conservatives compete with something close to 23 different independent parties (I exaggerate, but only slightly). Nothing much else of interest here.
Shropshire, Conservative held
The Conservatives are dominant and will remain so, but there is some minor interest among the opposition parties – the Greens will be protecting their 2017 gain, while the Liberal Democrats and Labour will be looking to make single-figure gains on their 2017 showings.
Warwickshire, Conservative held
Labour should make gains here on the back of a very poor set of results in 2017.
A newly created unitary authority after Northamptonshire’s effective bankruptcy.
West Sussex, Conservative held
While this is Conservative held and will remain so, the Liberal Democrats and Labour will hope to make gains after a very bad set of local elections in 2017.
Warrington, Labour held
A fairly straightforward one this – while the Conservatives hold the more marginal of the two seats at a parliamentary level, the long history of Labour-Conservative-Liberal Democrat competition here means that it ought to be a fairly traditional set of results for a local authority in a marginal seat.
Wiltshire, Conservative held
The central battle here is Conservatives versus Liberal Democrats, though the Greens have a decent-ish stretch target here in Corsham Without, while Labour will be looking to increase its representation from three to four.
Worcestershire, Conservative held
Labour should make gains here on the back of a very poor set of results in 2017.
[See also: Who’ll win the Hartlepool by-election?]