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Local Elections 2018: The Picture Up North

 Last week Britain went to the polls and the results were... more of the same.

Nationally, Labour failed to live up to its own pre-election hype and missed out on taking control of Wandsworth, Westminster, Dudley, Hillingdon and Barnet on top of losing control of Derby and Nuneaton Councils.

These results have understandably dominated the news cycle of the last few days, but the headlines mask what was in reality a very reasonable performance by Labour. Its biggest failure was not managing expectations about the councils they had in their sights. One notable fumble was arch-Corbynite MP Chris Williamson saying that it was the “easiest period to campaign for Labour in my entire life” in the days leading up to his party slumping heavily in his constituency.

The Conservatives have put in a better than expected performance considering pre-election jitters, recent scandals and the reality that the party in Government tends to do badly mid-term. However, there were three significant negatives for the party, with them losing control of Trafford, Richmond and Plymouth Councils.

The Liberal Democrats replicated their recent by-election success, having taken seats off Labour, Conservatives and UKIP all over the country, they have secured significant gains. Their performance in Richmond was the stand out result in the whole country, taking over as the largest party from the Conservatives with an incredible gain of 24 seats.

Additionally they have taken control of Kingston upon Thames and South Cambridgeshire from the Conservatives; the Lib Dems really are the party with the most to celebrate.

Finally, UKIP were almost completely wiped off the electoral map losing over 120 council seats, and securing only three.

North West

Manchester City Council had all out elections due to boundary changes. Prior to yesterday 95 of 96 councillors were Labour, the sole voice of opposition was former MP, Lib Dem John Leech. There has been a slight change with Labour reduced to 94 seats, as the Lib Dems have taken a second seat in Didsbury West. The Lib Dems will be disappointed with this result as they were targeting five to six seats this time round. It will also be interesting to see how the few Momentum-backed councillors will help to shape the policies coming from the newly-shaped Labour Group. We expect much greater scrutiny on viability and affordable housing contributions when applications come in front of the planning committee from now on.

The one Conservative-run metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, Trafford, is now under no overall control. The Tories threw a lot at the borough in the run up to yesterday, with both Philip Hammond and Theresa May making recent visits, but it was not enough. The Trafford Conservatives may not have been helped by Sean Anstee’s continued support for the GMSF and his public acceptance that some Green Belt land will have to be used for housing. Judging by Anstee’s comments following the results he may well try to remain as Leader by doing a deal with the borough’s two Lib Dems. Any change in administration would likely delay the GMSF further. There are also rumblings of leadership changes in Rochdale and Oldham, so these two are ones to watch over the coming weeks.

Elsewhere in the North West the Lib Dems took just three seats from Labour in Liverpool, below their target, but importantly claimed the scalp of Mayor Joe Anderson’s Cabinet Member for Housing. Labour performed well in Sefton, as did the Conservatives, thanks to four Lib Dem and one Independent losses. Knowsley Borough Council saw two upsets, the first Green councillor was elected in Prescot South and Cabinet Member for Resources Gary See lost his seat to an independent in Halewood South. These two wards are directly impacted by the Council's plans to sell off parks, and it appears voters have vented their anger.

In the rest of the Liverpool City Region things are as-you-were, with Labour dominating.

South Lakeland has seen the Liberal Democrats perform well, holding off a strong challenge from the Tories. They lost three seats, one to Labour and two to the Conservatives but retain 29 and control of the Council. This will likely be a disappointing result for the Tories as they were targeting more gains here.

Yorkshire & North East

Newcastle City Council, like Manchester, had all out elections. Labour made one gain at the expense of the Liberal Democrats and further consolidated their control. The Conservatives put up a good fight, notably in affluent Gosforth, but couldn’t make a breakthrough.

Hull similarly had every seat up for grabs and the Liberal Democrats made a strong play for control of the Council. They ended up taking nine seats from Labour. This means Labour maintain control but with a significantly reduced majority, down to 31 of the 57 available seats.

Leeds had a boundary change, leading to all 99 seats being contested. Labour have maintained a strong hold over the authority, with an increase of three seats boosting their numbers to 61. The Conservatives gained three seats overall but missed out on the seats in their target ward of Garforth & Swillington to the anti-development Garforth and Swillington Independents.

One third of Sheffield City Council’s seats were contested this year and it appears that the ongoing controversy around tree felling has done some damage to the otherwise dominant Labour Group. Labour suffered four losses, the Greens picked up two and the Lib Dems had a gain of three seats. As with most other areas across the country UKIP lost a seat, leaving them with just three.

By gaining two seats from the Lib Dems in Kirklees, Labour now has a majority on the Council and will take overall control having been a minority administration up to now. These two seats were the only changes from 24 contested, demonstrating that political opinions in the borough are deeply entrenched, further highlighting the achievement by the local Labour Group.

Mayoral election

Unsurprisingly, Dan Jarvis MP was elected as the Sheffield City Region’s first Mayor. He had a fight with his own party along the way with the Party’s governing body initially saying he couldn’t hold the job of Mayor and MP, they have reneged, and he will combine his duties.

Jarvis’s campaign focused on his pledge to get a better devolution deal for the region and it will be interesting to see how he goes about achieving that in the next four years. The Conservative government is in favour of devolving power to the regions, but in order to extract the best deal the whole region will need to be united, something it is definitely not at the minute. And rather confusingly Jarvis’s new salary, powers and remit haven’t been finalised. These issues will need resolved before he can put his £900million budget to use.

Chris Midgley

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