The dust has settled on the 2022 local elections, the hot takes have been dispensed with and the narrative that people will run with has been established, and as usual: they are wrong and The Social Review is right. The Tories have lost over 400 seats this year, which is to say, bad for them. And though doom and gloom are its first language, this has been a deceptively good set of results for the Labour Party. Here is the breakdown of the results.
- Oliver!: Labour’s Oliver Coppard replaced Dan Jarvis, comfortably holding South Yorkshire. With Sheffield making up nearly half the electorate this was not really ever in doubt, but the Tories will be extremely disappointed to be beaten by the Yorkshire Party in Barnsley. Tory MPs Miriam Cates, Nick Fletcher and Alexander Stafford may be sweating a bit more at these results as they look to hold their seats in the region, while Dan Jarvis, Rosie Winterton, Stephanie Peacock and Ed Miliband, all of whom were only saved by the Brexit Party in 2019 may sleep a little easier.
- And after all, you’re my Red Wall: While the term “Red Wall” is itself controversial, Labour held firm to areas that were traditional Labour seats and turned Tory in 2019. They made gains in areas such as Dudley, Cumbria and crucially Wakefield, where an important by-election will be taking place soon. And as the Red Wall showed in 2019, where the Tories gained very little in terms of vote share and relied on the Labour vote collapsing, sometimes marginal gains while your opponent shoots themselves in the foot are all you need.
- Big Dog Day Afternoon: We are going to need a bigger dog. Just as Labour has declined across the north years before, Boris the Big Red Wall dog has met a small problem called “the South.” The Tories lost Worthing to Labour, a place which could almost represent a true blue country in the dictionary. Consider that the party that didn’t even have representation on the council there until 2017. As the Tories retreat more across the south and continue to poll behind Labour on housing, education and headline voting intention whilst holding tiny leads on crime and the economy, Tory backbenchers may once again discover the lost art of writing to Graham Brady.
- Aspire to greatness: But not all is good news for Keir Starmer. Labour lost the Mayoralty of Tower Hamlets to Lutfur Rahman, who returned to politics after his five year ban from standing for office by the Electoral Commission expired. The Labour council approved a controversial redevelopment scheme in the Brick Lane area, and this will have played a part in the loss. They also lost the new Mayoralty in Croydon by a tiny margin after similar controversies and the council is now under no overall control. While part of these issues are local, part of them might represent weaknesses that need to be addressed by the next general election.
- BAME it all on Keir?: The label BAME seems reductive when analysing Labour’s performance here and more broadly under Starmer. James Kanagasooriam, who coined the term “Red Wall”, has identified that while the overall partisan affiliation of BAME voters is roughly similar to where it was ten years ago, there has been a shift rightwards among Hindus and Sikhs which Tories were able to take advantage. Labour’s recent problems with Islamophobia nearly cost them the Batley and Spen by-election, and the Brick Lane redevelopment in Tower Hamlets will have cost Labour with Bengali voters. Conversely, Starmer’s Labour has rebounded with Jewish voters, taking control of Barnet, where they went backwards under Corbyn despite the fact it should have been a slam-dunk gain in 2018. Labour also gained ground in Bury South, home to the largest Jewish population in Britain outside London, a seat they only lost by 402 votes in 2019, when antisemitism was clearly one of the causes of the loss in that seat.
- By the Skins of their teeth: In my home city of Bristol 28% of the eligible electorate turned out and by a larger than expected margin nearly 60% of those voters were in favour of a move to a committee system. This was a larger margin than I had predicted, but ultimately when only one party is in favour of an electoral outcome and half of their MP’s in the city are conspicuously absent from the campaign trail (one released a statement immediately after the result was announced highlighting her long-held opposition to the role), it feels as if the campaign is not a winning one. Incumbent Mayor Marvin Rees claimed the result was not actually about him, as he’d already announced he wouldn’t be running for a third term in 2024. The West has not been a happy place for Labour mayors recently, as WECA Metro Mayor Dan Norris faces another row with the three council leaders in the Combined Authority, which includes the soon to be redundant Rees.
- Thistle do nicely: Labour came within a seat of becoming the largest party on Glasgow City Council and overtook the Tories to become the second largest party (and largest unionist party) in the country, whilst also gaining a majority on West Dunbartonshire Council (which was also one of only four councils to vote for independence in 2014). However the inexorable march of the SNP continues. Fifteen years since they first took power in Scotland, the party of Nicola Sturgeon continues to gain seats. With Labour now the largest unionist party and leading in nationwide opinion polls, there will be extra pressure to prove that they have a chance to peel off both progressive SNP voters and tactical unionists at a general election.
- A Wales of a time: Mark Drakeford’s “clear red water” policy paid dividends as Labour made a number of gains on their poor showing in 2017. Labour regained Blaenau Gwent and became the largest party in Monmouth, while losing Neath Port Talbot to No Overall Control. In Cardiff, where Labour only held a narrow majority after 2017, the party made an astounding fifteen gains. The decline of the Conservatives outside England should certainly be noted, as it was only thanks to their 2017 breakthrough in Scotland that Theresa May was able to stay in office.
- Mr Davey, tear down this wall: If ever there was a night and a morning after for cringy hammer based PR stunts this was it. The Lib Dems are back as a lean mean by-election winning machine, and seem to have returned to their traditional “I hate both parties, so I’ll vote for you lot” role, as they gained Somerset, Westmorland and Hull. The Greens also gained a lot of ground, and not just in places like Stratford full of trendy young professionals. Yes, they did win in several areas “where the footballers live” like Wetherby and Hale, but they also took working class Woodhouse Park, home to Manchester Airport. It seems the old tactics of pointing crossly at every pothole you can find is paying dividends.
Though the narrative might have said otherwise, the 2022 local elections have been a marked success for Labour, a nightmare for the Tories and extremely important for the Lib Dems and the Greens. They made marginal gains on an already successful cycle and stand in good stead to regain much of the ground they lost in 2019. This bodes well for 2023, as those results were bad for both major parties. While these elections reinforce the fact that Labour is unlikely to win a majority in 2024, they do confirm that on current polling the Conservatives will lose their majority and the most likely scenario is that Keir Starmer will be Prime Minister in 2024 should the current political environment hold.
For more coverage of the local elections, please check out friend of The Social Review Jacob Weinbren’s detailed breakdown of the election results.