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May 2021 Elections: What to look out for

Thursday’s elections will be one of the biggest sets of elections ever to be held on a single day outside of a general election. With around 48m people able to cast a vote, it will be a big test of whether Labour is making the gains needed to form the next government.

As well as the by-election in Hartlepool, there will be elections for the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments, the Mayor of London and 12 other directly elected mayors, over 4,500 councillors in 143 local authorities in England, and for Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales. 

Here are some of the key things to look out for.  

Hartlepool – Labour won the seat twice under Jeremy Corbyn, will it hold on this time?

2010201520172019
Labour43%       16,26736%      14,07653%       21,96938%      15,464
Conservative28%       10,75821%        8,25634%       14,31929%      11,869
UKIP/Brexit7%           2,68228%      11,05212%         4,80126%      10,603
Other (combined)22%         8,53515%        6,1062%              7467%          3,101

The Hartlepool seat has been held by Labour since its creation in 1974 and the town has had a Labour MP for even longer.

Labour won the seat both times under Jeremy Corbyn with Labour securing 53% of the vote in 2017.

In the 2019 General Election, Labour had a 9% lead over the Tories, though both Labour’s AND the Conservatives’ vote shares fell (15% points and 5% respectively) compared with 2017. 

So this really should be a Labour hold. Worryingly local polls suggest Labour is only retaining three in four of its 2019 voters. It is also failing to win back 2017 Labour voters who didn’t back the party in 2019. 

Some commentators are claiming that a Tory victory is most likely in Hartlepool because the pro-Brexit vote was divided in 2019. But just assuming the pro-Brexit vote will go wholesale to the Tories this time is mistaken. Despite the 2019 general election being a Brexit election and Boris Johnson being Tory leader, many pro-Brexit voters still refused to back the Tories then, backing the Brexit Party instead. Many 2019 Brexit Party voters will be former Labour voters and given the margin of victory at the last general election, Labour would anyway only need a minority of 2019 Brexit Party voters to win this time too. As Stephen Bush says: “even if you go for the most plausible pro-Conservative reassignment of the Brexit Party vote, the seat is still a constituency Labour ought to be winning if they are on course to increase the number of seats they hold, let alone to win an election or form a government.”(1)

Mayoral elections – will Labour win the 3 key races it narrowly lost last time? 

Given the closeness of the previous elections, Labour will be hoping to take three Mayoral races that were narrowly lost last time including West of England, Tees Valley and West Midlands. These are all in areas Labour should be winning if it hopes to form the next government. 

In the West Midlands the Tories won last time by fewer than 4,000 votes (0.8%). In the Tees Valley by 2,100 votes (2.2%) and in the West of England by 4,300 votes (3.2%).

MayoraltyIncumbent (last election)Vote % final round of previous election
LabourConservative
LondonLab (2016)57%43%
West YorkshireN/A
West of EnglandCon (2017)48.4%51.6%
West MidlandsCon (2017)49.6%50.4%
Tees ValleyCon (2017)48.9%51.1%
Liverpool City RegionLab (2017)59%*20%
Greater ManchesterLab (2017)63%*23%
Cambridgeshire and PeterboroughCon (2016)(eliminated before final round on 19%)57%
BristolLab (2016)63%(eliminated before final round on 14%)
DoncasterLab (2017)51%*21%
LiverpoolLab (2016)53%*4% (6th place)
North TynesideLab (2017)56%*31%
SalfordLab (2016)66%34%

* First round win.

Local elections – will the Tory advance in the Red Wall be halted? 

143 councils across England are holding elections. According to IFG, Labour holds 54 of them and the Conservatives 47. There is no overall control in 33, while the Liberal Democrats have 6 and 3 are newly-formed councils.

The decision to roll two separate local election cycles into one has implications for judging the results. Those that would have been fought in 2020 are more dominated by large urban areas whereas those scheduled for 2021 are mainly in the English shires

Because of strong results for the Tories when the Shires seats were last fought, Conservative Party strategists are briefing that even a 10-point lead for the party nationally could translate into the Conservative’s still losing hundreds of councillors in those areas.(2) However, the Conservatives hope to gain councillors in so-called ‘red wall’ areas. While there may be Conservative losses overall, these so-called “red wall” areas should be a particular focus for forming an analysis of the local election results for Labour.

Elections expert, Professor Michael Thrasher says “It is imperative that Sir Keir Starmer significantly increases the number of Labour councils and councillors.” Commentators have identified Dudley, Northumberland and Derby as areas where Labour need to win seats to show they are competitive nationally.(3) Thrasher has identified a number of areas where Labour is at risk of losing council seats including Barnsley, South Tyneside, St Helens, and Sunderland.(4)

Scotland

All 129 elected seats of the Scottish Parliament are up for election. 

The SNP is currently short of a majority and is hoping to secure one in order to push for a referendum. 

Will Labour be able to build on its 2016 vote and stop the SNP from winning a majority?

SNPConservativeLabourGreenLib Dem
Current seats61302355
Constituency vote in 201647%22%23%1%8%
Latest constituency polling average (FT)(5)48%21%21%2%7%

Wales

Labour has been in office in Wales since devolution in 1999. 

It’s set to be the largest party again – but will it fall just short of a majority as some polls suggest?

Plaid CymruConservativeLabourOtherLib Dem
Current seats101029101
Constituency vote in 201621%21%35%16%8%
Latest constituency polling average (FT)(6)21%27%37%9%4%

References

  1. https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/elections/2021/04/what-would-be-good-result-labour-hartlepool-election
  2. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/what-s-at-stake-on-super-thursday-5n82cdwh8
  3. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2021/05/04/hartlepool-by-election-key-seats-red-wall-watch-local-elections/
  4. https://news.sky.com/story/local-elections-how-to-measure-success-and-failure-for-each-party-on-6-may-12291415
  5. https://www.ft.com/content/3ea5b867-9a3c-404e-b2f9-c644fee4e3bd
  6. https://www.ft.com/content/3ea5b867-9a3c-404e-b2f9-c644fee4e3bd

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