Why is Medway so popular this morning? Well, the District Council has just changed hands from Conservative to Labour for the first time in 20 years. It is also the first District in England to announce a swing from Tory to Labour in this local election. In 2019, Medway council remained a Tory stronghold with 33 seats out of 55 – but Kier Starmer and Angela Rayner visited Medway in the final hours of campaigning this week suggesting it was important to the party. During his visit, Starmer said “what a message it would send if we could win here” and they have done just that.
Medway is not the only election though. On the 4th May 2023 we saw District Council elections take place around England. Not all districts were up for election, but 230 District Councils– that is around 8000 seats went to the polls. District councils are in charge of bin collection and parks – they are the people you complain to about rubbish and excessive dog waste. District Councils are not in charge of schools or roads: these are dealt with by the County Council who would love to hear about the pothole that broke your car’s suspension coil.
There are no elections in London, Scotland or Wales, and NI have postponed their local elections until the 18the May due to the Coronation. Across England there were also 4 elections for mayors – in Bedford Leicester Mansfield and Middlesborough.
By Friday morning, 59 councils had announced – meaning the results were made available. The rest will come in throughout the day, 65 councils spent the night counting votes, the rest slept, and will announce over the course of Friday with all due in by 8pm.
On waking up on Friday, the Conservatives had lost almost 200 councillors and Labour had gained over 100. The most interesting district is our very own Medway – which so far is the only one to have switched from Conservative control (where it has been for 20 years) to Labour control – this is a big swing. Stoke on Trent and Plymouth have also gone to Labour, but from no over all control – meaning no one party had a big enough majority.
Sunak suggested earlier in the week that it was likely to be a tough night and Tory ministers predicted the loss of 1000 seats. This looks as though it might be possible. In 2019, under Theresa May, the Tories lost 1269. The Labour Party will be looking at Conservative losses as well as their own gains, and this is something to keep in mind as the results pour in – voters are more likely to vote outside the two main parties in local elections. Labour will look to these results to predict how they might fare in any upcoming General Election, and this is where the spin comes in: remember that we probably won’t see a GE for over a year, and a lot can happen in that time. Nonetheless, there are some councils and areas that are sometimes called ‘bellwether’ councils – ones that are more helpful than others in terms of crystal ball reading. Plymouth, Stoke-on-Trent and Chester, are considered particularly important and were therefore counted over night: Plymouth and Stoke on Trent have both gone to Labour.
Most importantly for the Christ Church Politics and IR team, we have three students and a recent graduate standing as candidates across Kent. We wish them luck and wait with bated breath for the results.
Dr Sarah Lieberman is Postgraduate Lead in the School of Law, Politics and Social Sciences and Course Director of MSc Security and International Relations