Today’s local elections highlight the quiet revolution that has been taking place in the structure of local government. The London boroughs, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle are all-out. Thirty of the other 34 metropolitan boroughs elect in thirds, so a third of their wards are up for election today. All praise, for once, to the Daily Mirror, which has a snapshot guide to what’s happening across the piste. It reports that “in the 67 non-metropolitan councils, 54 have a third of seats up for election, six have half their seats (Adur, Cheltenham, Fareham, Gosport, Nuneaton & Bedworth and Oxford), and seven have all-up elections: Eastleigh, Harrogate, Hastings, Huntingdonshire, Newcastle-under-Lyme, South Cambridgeshire and South Lakeland. Of the 17 unitary authorities just two have all-up elections (Blackburn with Darwen and Kingston-upon-Hull) with the remaining 15 having a third of their seats up”.
Then there are the mayoral elections taking place in Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Watford, as well as the first metro-mayoral election in the Sheffield City region. Oh, and the by-election in West Tyrone, about which David Shiels wrote on this site earlier this week, is also taking place.
All this adds up to what writers of a certain vintage like to call a smorgasbord. The Coalition saw a bit of a swingback, after years of New Labour centralisation (and quite a lot too during the Thatcher years), towards local devolution, though its scale and extent is very patchy. Local government has more of a strategic input into, say, transport, at least if the council in question is big enough, or the area concerned has an elected mayor. But, for many voters, local elections boil down – when they are not protesting against whatever party holds national office at the time, or simply voting tribally in the way they reflexively do – to which party will provide the best possible services at the lowest possible cost. There is only one answer to that. As the age-old, evidence-rich claim puts it: Conservative councils cost you less. Vote Tory today.