Over 48 million people will be eligible to vote for over 5,000 seats up and down the UK on 6 May.
Voters in England will decide the makeup of 143 councils; 35 Police and Crime Commissioners; 13 local Mayors; and the make-up of the London Assembly. There will also be a by-election in Hartlepool by following the recent resignation of Labour MP Mike Hill. In Scotland and Wales, citizens will decide seats in their respective Parliament/Assembly, with Wales also electing four Police and Crime Commissioners.
Although the voting systems differ across the UK, the electoral significance remains the same. Leaders from all parties, including the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have hit the campaign trail in different circumstances this year, but still hope they can convince voters to turn out for them.
But why do these elections matter? Well, it will be the first chance for many to vote since the 2019 General Election, which saw the Conservatives win an unprecedented 80-seat majority. And a lot has changed since then.
We left the EU after four years of trying and have lived through a global pandemic, in which over 100,000 tragically lost their lives. And we have new figures in Opposition, with Labour’s new look team in Westminster and Scotland looking to make up ground on their opponents.
Delayed due to the pandemic, these elections will be the biggest local elections since 1973. They’ll also give politicos an insight into how the events of the last 18 months have impacted people’s politics.
But with so much going on 6 May , what should you be looking out for?
The SNP – the future of the Union is in the balance
The election results in Scotland are pivotal for the future of the United Kingdom. The Scottish National Party (SNP) are polling well and could gain another majority in Holyrood, which will undoubtedly lead to louder calls for a second independence referendum.
Nicola Sturgeon’s party have campaigned hard for a second referendum in the run up to this election, and the 6 May results are set to reveal the nation’s appetite to remain or leave. Will they claim an outright majority? If so, will it be interpreted as a mandate for indyref2? Former PM Tony Blair doesn’t think so, but plenty in Scotland doubtless will. All eyes will be on the Prime Minister as to how he deals with the aftermath of these elections.
Conservatives & Labour fight for second in Scotland
Independence isn’t the only thing to be looking out for in Scotland though.
Both the Conservatives and Labour have new leaders in Scotland. Although their politics differ, their campaign strategies have been somewhat similar. Both Douglas Ross and Anas Sarwar have positioned their campaigns around recovery plans instead of independence.
Whilst Sarwar is enjoying higher opinion poll ratings than his Conservative counterpart now, the question is whether this will translate into wider support for Scottish Labour which will be trying to rebuild its support base after a series of tumultuous elections.
Following the resignation of Labour’s Mike Hill, the 60-year strong Labour seat of Hartlepool is up for grabs. Worryingly for Labour leader Keir Starmer, new polling suggests Boris Johnson’s Conservatives could take control and inflict early pain.
Losing Hartlepool to the Conservatives would be damaging for Starmer, who has been grappling to win back voters lost in the last general election. This is a seat that the Conservatives would traditionally write-off as unwinnable – the fact they are in the running to take the crown after a decade in power and midterm into a Boris Johnson led government would create a very bad hangover the morning after for Labour’s leader.
Labour’s Paul Williams is aiming to maintain or increase the 3,595-vote majority currently in place, while Conservative Jill Mortimer has been canvassing with the Prime Minister to drum up support for her campaign.
This battle is key in the overall picture of the May elections, and will be an early indicator of post-Covid, post-Brexit attitudes in the North East.
A total of 20 candidates are standing in the London Mayoral election, with the Labour candidate Sadiq Khan leading the polls at around 41 per cent, and Conservative Shaun Bailey trailing in second place. The result will be a good measure of other candidates like Laurence Fox’s ability to use Covid-related policies to persuade London’s citizens to turn out for them.
Fox, who has been outspoken in his condemnation of lockdown restrictions, is aiming to gain votes for the Reclaim Party, with his campaign rumoured to have over £5 million in funding.
Other runners and riders include Count Binface, who’s unique policies include renaming London Bridge to Phoebe Waller after the Fleabag creator. Also in the mix is comedian and YouTuber Max Fosh, who is solely aiming to get more votes than Laurence Fox.
Local councils: Durham, Bury and Rotherham
Labour lost over 10 percentage points in Durham, Bury and Rotherham at the 2019 general election. We’ll be looking out to see whether or not the Conservatives are able to translate general election wins into local election wins this time around.
Combined and Single Authority Mayors
Alongside councils and devolved elections, Combined and Single Authority Mayors are up for election.
Currently, the Conservatives make up four of the seven regional mayors, with Labour making up the remaining three. West Yorkshire’s Mayor will be decided for the first time this year and will be a key battleground for both main parties.
The Conservative Mayor in Tees Valley, Ben Houchen, has been well-received by local voters so far – adopting unlikely Tory policies like nationalising the local airport – and will look to consolidate Conservative presence in the North East, but can Labour knock him off course? They will be hoping for greater turnout than in 2017, where a mere 21% of the Tees Valley electorate voted.
Labour’s majority in Wales
As followers of Welsh politics will know, the Senedd has long been controlled by Welsh Labour. The party have been in power for almost six decades. But will Labour gain the 31 seats in the Senedd that they need for a majority? No party has ever managed that in the 60-seat Senedd. Labour might have to rely on support from Plaid in the event of no overall majority.
One of the key seats to look out for this time around will be Rhondda, a former Labour seat which is currently held by Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood by a slender majority.
If you are a political geek like me, sit back, get the popcorn in and see what the evening/early morning brings.
George is a Senior Account Manager at iNHouse Communications.