Yesterday morning I joined my friends John Curtice, Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher to present at the Political Studies Association’s media briefing on next week’s local elections. While the local elections have rather been overtaken by events, they still matter for the control of councils on Wales. Below is the text of what I presented:
On 4th May Wales elects all twenty-two of its principal local authorities. These councils were last elected five years ago – except for Ynys Mon (Anglesey), where the election was delayed until 2013 after ‘local difficulties’ on the council.
In 2012 Labour made substantial gains on the previous elections in 2008, increasing its total of Welsh councillors by nearly 70%, and the number of local councils it controlled from two to ten. All other parties lost ground. The Lib-Dems suffered particularly badly, losing more than half the seats they were defending.
The table below shows the numbers of seats and councils won by each party in 2012/13 across the 22 Welsh local authorities (with changes from the 2008 results in brackets):
|Party||Councillors Won||Authorities won|
|Labour||580 (+235)||10 (+8)|
|Plaid Cymru||170 (-35)||0|
|Conservative||105 (-69)||0 (-2)|
|Independents||337 (-39)||2 (-1)|
The total number of local election candidates for each party across Wales in 2017 is as follows:
Labour 940 (+94)
Independents 767 (+21)
Conservatives 627 (+59)
Plaid Cymru 579 (+49)
Liberal Democrats 281 (-55)
Local Independents 18 (-16)
United Kingdom Independence Party 80 (+67)
Green Party 78 (+10)
Others 114 (+19)
Interestingly the Liberal Democrats are standing fewer than a third of the candidates of Welsh Labour. The number of UKIP candidates compared to 2012/13 has risen significantly – yet they continue to lag far behind the other parties. These figures also show the continuing strength of independents in Welsh local government.
The latest Welsh Political Barometer poll asked about local election voting intentions. The poll produced the figures below (with, in brackets, changes on an equivalent question run by YouGov before the 2012 Welsh local elections):
Labour: 28% (-20)
Conservatives: 26% (+9)
Plaid Cymru: 19% (+2)
Liberal Democrats: 7% (no change)
UKIP: 8% (no comparable figure)
Others/Independents: 12% (no comparable figure, as combined with UKIP in 2012)
What should we expect when the results come in on May 5th?
Labour: At the time of the 2012 local elections, Welsh Labour was polling around 50% for both Westminster and the Assembly. Those local elections came at an ideal time for Labour. The latest Welsh Political Barometer poll, published on 24th April, showed Labour at 30% support for the general election, and similar levels for the National Assembly. Even before the general election was called, therefore, expectations were for significant Labour losses in Wales. The party will be on the defensive, and are likely to suffer overall seat losses in three figures.
Councils to watch: Cardiff, Swansea, Newport: Labour won control of Wales’ three largest cities last time. Now the question is, can it hold any of them?
Conservatives: Parties in government at Westminster usually do badly at local elections. Startingly, even before the general election was called, the Tories were performing remarkably strongly in the Welsh polls for a party well into the mid-term stage. Tory performance in Welsh local council by-elections in recent years has been patchy at best. So expectations would have been for modest gains; the general election may have transformed that into more substantial progress, seeing parts of Wales turning blue.
Councils to watch: The Tories lost control of both Monmouthshire and Vale of Glamorgan in 2012; they should expect to regain both councils.
Plaid Cymru: Plaid Cymru are the second party of Welsh local government, but currently a long way behind Labour. Despite occasional good local by-election performances, their presence and performance in local elections has continued to be deeply inconsistent. We should be expecting some gains overall, but this is likely to be patchy: there is no evidence yet of a strong general tide towards Plaid.
Councils to watch: Plaid would hope to win a majority in Gywnedd, and to make ground in Ynys Mon, which is also their key general election target seat.
Liberal Democrats: The Liberal Democrats have been performing very strongly in many local by-elections in England of late; their performances in Wales (and Scotland) have been more inconsistent. However, these local recoveries by the party have not generally been reflected in improved poll ratings. The relatively small number of candidates they are standing suggests an attempt at targeting in areas of relative strength, as they seek to rebuild. Councils to watch: After a tough 2012, the Lib-Dems would hope to recover in some areas of previous strength, including Ceredigion, Powys and Cardiff.
UKIP: UKIP have a significant presence in the Assembly, while they continue to poll respectably for both Westminster and the Assembly they remain utterly insignificant in Welsh local government; recent local by-elections have seen them often failing to stand candidates, and generally performing poorly even when they do stand, with poor infrastucture and inconsistentent messaging. With their poll ratings declining, any election victories would be an achievement.
NOTE: The April Welsh Political Barometer poll was conducted by YouGov for ITV-Cymru Wales and Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre. It had a sample of 1029 Welsh adults, with interviews being conducted via the internet between 19-21 April 2017.