As turnouts remain low, there remains a unique atmosphere at local council election counts

Robert Milne

Account Director - Advent

Even in a Labour stronghold like Coventry, with little to no chance of the council changing hands, there is still a unique atmosphere at a local council election count.

By 10.30pm at Coventry Building Society Arena the ballot boxes have all arrived, the papers are in the process of being validated and police officers are patrolling the perimeter of the tables observing proceedings.

It was always unlikely to see a surprise in Coventry on the evening, with 14 Labour seats up for election and four conservative seats. Last year saw Coventry’s first Green Party councillor elected, and that success resulted in 16 Green candidates going to the poll for 2023.

PLMR Advent has been covering election counts across Coventry and Warwickshire for more than 20 years – and for the last five years has worked on behalf of the Press Association and tasked with providing accurate, real-time results for the news wire.

This year marked my fourth time covering local election counts and even in that short time frame we have seen turnouts decrease and a dwindling media presence. For this year, I was joined in the media area only by one reporter from the BBC and another from the city’s leading media publication Coventry Live.

The first thing on any reporter’s mind when covering a local election is when they are going to get to finish – these nights can stretch to 5am in the morning.

While you may think a low turnout means an earlier finish, that isn’t always the case and, in many cases, low turnout can result in recounts due to tighter margins in seats. The evening saw two recounts!

There is something a little bit different about local elections, and the atmosphere starts to build as the hopeful candidates start to arrive around midnight.

In many cases, these candidates aren’t people with goals of becoming national public figures and backgrounds as career politicians, many of the candidates arrive with the hope of leaving with the honour of being the elected member for their community.

This is the culmination of many years of work building their standing in their communities and victory would stand as their greatest life achievement. That is something you can really feel as the results are announced and crowds gather at the front of the room to hear the results announced on stage.

Their fates are in the hands of the hundreds of counters in the room who furiously begin counting votes from around 11.30pm on the evening – on this night it began three hours before the final result was announced.

Labour came into this election in Coventry with 38 seats on the council, the Conservatives held 15, with one Green councillor completing the full council.

As announcements ring out around the arena for candidates to go to the adjudication room, the media in attendance head out around the room to gain any intel possible and look to flesh out any news angles.

This is important for getting any insight, for example you can tell from body language and visible emotion when a candidate is about to lose their seat.

A quick walkaround can provide insight into the wider political picture in the city too, with former Labour leadership candidate Mary Creagh spotted in the room following the news that she will be bidding to become the next MP for Coventry North East.

At 1.30am, the first declaration of the night saw Labour winners in the Radford ward, which continued the trend for the night ahead.

Labour won the next nine seats before the Conservatives finally took their first seat of the night at 2.57am.

There was one change on the night, and for a second election in a row Coventry saw a Green Party candidate gain a seat – this time in the Holbrook ward.

The Conservative party held all of their seats, but Labour’s grip in Coventry remains tight. The turnout on the evening sat at 26.46 per cent, a decrease from 28 per cent last year.

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