Labour’s mixed bag day has continued into the evening:
- Lost: Cheshire West and Chester. The Conservatives lost eight councillors in one fell swoop here, but the fragmenting of the vote saw independents, Lib Dems and a Green elected, as Labour narrowly lost overall control. They’re the single largest party, however, so may well seek a coalition or to govern as a minority.
- Gained: Gravesham. Labour gained three seats to sneak a majority of two, overtaking the Conservatives, who lost five, to turn the council red after a period of No Overall Control.
- Lost: Lancaster. Corbyn famously chose to campaign here on the day of the second referendum march, but it doesn’t appear to have paid off. His party lost eight seats and overall control. But the Conservatives also lost seven. There were small gains for Greens and the Lib Dems, but the major beneficiaries were – you guessed it – a local independent group.
- Mansfield bucks the independent trend. In a generally good election for independent candidates, Labour reversed the trend in Mansfield. There, the elected mayoralty has been held by independents since the post was created back in 2002. No longer – Labour’s Andy Abrahams unseated the incumbent, Kate Allsop, by an incredibly narrow margin: 50.01 per cent vs 49.99 per cent in the second round. There were just two votes in it but a win is a win.
- Some progress in council chambers. A few councils stand out as examples of positive news for Labour short of actually seizing authorities. In Canterbury, the hapless MP Rosie Duffield declared prematurely that “Canterbury is not Conservative!”, but though the council stayed blue Labour did gain seven seats. In Thanet the collapse of UKIP saw Labour’s group spring from four seats up to 16, although the authority is in No Overall Control and the Tories still have a somewhat larger group.
- The Opposition has gained High Peak from the Conservatives. It’s their fourth gain of this election, and the second directly from blue to red. There were some dramatic changes – Labour gained five seats, while the Conservatives lost seven.
- Momentum’s candidate wins the North of Tyne mayoralty. Jamie Driscoll has become what the Guardian called “the most powerful Corbynista in Britain” by winning the new metro mayoralty, which covers Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside and Northumberland. In a preferential system, he won in the final round by 76,862 votes to 60,089 for Charlie Hoult, the Conservative candidate. Driscoll must now work with Nick Forbes, the Corbyn-sceptic leader of Newcastle City Council whom he defeated for the nomination. Given the scrutiny which his position invites, Labour will be hoping Driscoll does not repeat the famous car crash interview in which he struggled to give his position on Brexit.
A series of bad results for Labour in the Tees Valley. Earlier on, they lost Hartlepool to No Overall Control, and lost the Middlesbrough mayoralty to an independent. In the last hour they’ve also lost overall control of councils in:
The Conservatives gained most (+5 seats) in Darlington, while independents were the main beneficiaries in Middlesbrough (+14) and Stockton (+6). All eyes now on Redcar and Cleveland, where Labour went into this election a minority administration. The Party could end today without control of a single local authority in the Tees Valley. The mayor of the combined authority, remember, is Ben Houchen, a Conservative.
- Labour gain Calderdale… This was one of Corbyn’s targets for the election, and Labour have duly won their first majority in the borough since 1999, after 1 remarkable 17 years of No Overall Control.
- …but lose North East Derbyshire to the Conservatives.The first direct gain of an authority from Labour to Conservative, this is good news for Lee Rowley, the Conservative who gained the local Parliamentary seat back in 2017. This fits with the broad trend of Labour slowly drifting in many of its less urban, less graduate-heavy traditional areas.
- Overall councillor losses rises again slightly.That earlier trend of Labour’s position slowly improving towards breaking even in council seats has stopped and gone into reverse. They’re back down to -78 seats net.
- Labour lose overall control of Cannock Chase and Burnley. The last hour has brought news of two more lost Labour authorities, more than balancing out that Amber Valley gain and taking Labour to a net loss of three authorities so far. However, in terms of the inter-party contest neither result is good news for the Tories, who also lost seats in both areas. Instead the benefit goes to smaller parties.
- Brexit civil war latest. Another vivid illustration of the depth of frustration felt in some parts of the Labour Party in Leave-voting areas. One Wakefield councillor lashed out at Yvette Cooper in his victory speech, saying: “There has been some wonderful candidates who’ve lost tonight. And it’s all because of the MP for Pontefract, Normanton and Castleford, who wouldn’t know what democracy was if it scratched her in the eyeballs.” Unimpressed doesn’t quite cover it.
- John Curtice passes judgement. The psephology guru says: “Even though the Labour Party is defending a relatively poor result in 2015, the party is not doing even as well as it did then.” The Conservative majority in 2015 was of course founded on Lib Dem collapse as well as defeating Labour, so today’s results might not translate the same way nationally, but it’s a poor performance that will surely make some opposition MPs think twice about that election they say they want.
- Still a net loss of council seats. Labour’s total position is slowly improving – their national total is currently -69 councillors. But that’s still well below the expectations beforehand of net gains.
- There’s a trickle of small advances in the south, at the expense of Conservatives. One in Brentwood. Two in South Oxfordshire. One in Wokingham. Two in Bracknell Forest. Any gains are welcome news for any party, but small increases to small opposition groups if anything slightly flatter the national figures – big swings, or outright gains of authorities, in marginal parliamentary seats are what parties normally hope for in strategic terms. Those are still few and far between.
- The majority of authorities are still to report. And with the degree of volatility we’ve seen, with Greens, independents, local parties and others winning seats and securing dramatic swings in some contests, there’s still the potential for some upsets – for or against Labour.
- Labour gain control of Amber Valley. A second authority for Labour to celebrate – and one they will take particular pleasure in, I suspect. Amber Valley has been Tory-controlled since 2000, except for a one-year Labour interregnum in 2014-15. But Labour gained control in the last few minutes. Shamefully, that includes the election of a candidate currently suspended from the Labour Party on anti-semitism allegations.
- Corbyn is “very sorry” for lost seats, and promises “we will win them back”. In a slightly tetchy interview, the Labour leader argues that the results show “the basis on which we can win marginal seats such as Swindon”.
- Second Referendum blame game. Following the claim I reported earlier from the Sunderland Labour leader that seats were lost in the city due to MPs supporting a second referendum, one of those MPs – Bridget Philipson – has helpfully doubled down and put out a statement arguing Labour simply isn’t sufficiently strongly in favour of a re-run.
- Swapping core voters for graduates. Here’s Lisa Nandy’s take on the underlying trend for Labour: “Bolsover, Bolton, Ashfield, Walsall, Derby… Labour has a problem but it’s not the simplistic leave vs remain narrative being pushed by our different Brexit factions. We’ve had a problem in these towns for decades and we still don’t get it… What does Labour losing control of Bolton, but gaining control of Trafford tell us? That the same trends we saw in 2017 and 2018 are holding – we’re gaining amongst graduates, often in cities, and losing our core vote elsewhere”
We’re only a portion of the way through the results, but the classic trend of an election count is for some traditionally Labour areas to report their results first (often as a symptom of low turnout). That distorts the early impressions of how it’s going, but does give us some early insight into the situation in some heartland Labour councils. As the day goes by we’ll get more of an idea if there’s a different trend for the Opposition in more Tory-leaning councils.
Here are some of the early points to note:
- So far, Labour is suffering net losses. The current running total, according to the BBC, is -79 council seats. That isn’t as large as Conservative losses, but it is at odds with the expectations before polling day of Labour gains somewhere in the low hundreds. If that is replicated elsewhere in the country, then they appear to be losing ground on their 2015 position – when they lost a general election on the same day.
- They’re hurting in some core areas. Four seats – and overall control – lost in the Wirral. Twelve seats lost – four to the Tories, four to the Lib Dems, three to UKIP and one to an independent – in Sunderland. Five seats – and overall control – lost in Hartlepool. A massive 14 seats lost – mostly to independents – in Bolsover, along with overall control of the council. Seven seats lost in Bolton. In Middlesborough, they lost the mayoralty by a thumping margin to an independent candidate. This isn’t a straight switch to one other party; in several places their vote is fragmenting, with seats falling to small parties and independents as well as bigger competitors. Results like this should be troubling for a party that has been calling for a General Election ASAP.
- And falling short in some targets. Swindon, for example, was a great hope for Labour – particularly given the difficult news its car industry has had in recent months. And yet Labour went backwards, with their Parliamentary candidate losing a seat to the Conservatives.
- Having lost three councils, they have so far gained only one: Trafford. This was a result more like the story Labour hoped to be telling nationally: nine Tory losses, and six Labour gains. Even then, the total vote share for the borough reveals it was more about Conservative problems (-14.5%) than Labour gaining ground (their vote grew +1.4%). There are some more modest advances elsewhere – gains in Peterborough and Southend, for example – but Corbyn’s party is not so far the main beneficiary of Tory losses.
- The row over why this has happened is only just beginning. The Labour leader in Sunderland has blamed national Labour figures demanding a second referendum. Ian Lavery, the Labour Party Chairman, says anger about the failure to fulfil Brexit outweighs anger over austerity. In response, we’re starting to see a counter-argument emerge pointing to Lib Dem and Green gains as evidence that really Labour was insufficiently Remain. This is all complicated, of course, by the likelihood that, like the Conservatives, Labour may be being punished from two different directions in different parts of the country. Which they opt to resolve is the big question.