The UK General Election - 4th July 2024

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Looking Back on the Locals: The Rise of Multi-Party Politics?

Daisy Mann

Account Executive

On Thursday 2 May 2024, elections took place across England for 2,600 council seats across 107 councils, 25 members of the London Assembly, and 11 mayors, as well as a by-election in Blackpool South. Further elections for 37 police and crime commissioners took place in England and Wales. The results reflected a strong display for the Labour Party across both the local elections and mayoral contests whilst the Conservatives suffered significant losses. However, perhaps the most notable performances of the day came from the minor parties who exceeded expectations.

As predicted given the challenging political climate and internal fractures facing the Conservative Government, the Labour Party was the clear front runner in the local elections. They won 1,158 of the 2,600 seats available in the council elections. This reflects the continued progress of Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party in convincing voters that they are the right party for leadership and signifies positive momentum for Labour ahead of an upcoming general election.

Though Starmer described Labour’s performance as “seismic” – having gained councillors in true blue counties such as Rushmoor, as well as in pro-Brexit areas, including Thurrock, Redditch and Hartlepool – it wasn’t all plain sailing for the Party. Labour lost control of Oldham council and only just hung on in nearby Blackburn, meaning they were unable to realise the full extent of the gains they were earmarked to achieve.

Moreover, whilst Labour performed well, they were unable to take all of the Conservative’s losses for themselves, with the Liberal Democrats acting as the more palatable alternative for centre-right voters uncomfortable and unsatisfied with the direction of the current Government. The Liberal Democrats outperformed the Conservatives both in terms of councillors in office and overall council control. The Lib Dems will continue to be a thorn in the side for both Labour and the Conservatives in any upcoming election.

Beyond this, another pressing issue for the Conservatives can be found in the performance of Reform UK. In seats where Reform had a candidate standing, the Conservatives saw their share of the vote slashed. Nowhere was this more pertinent than in the Blackpool South by-election. Whilst Labour ran away with another historic victory, achieving the third biggest swing in majority since World War Two, Reform won 16.9% of the vote, leaving the Conservatives with 17.5%. This is a concerning result for the Conservatives as Reform threaten their dominance among the grassroots, leaving the Conservatives at risk of being pincered between Reform and Labour.

Despite plotters warning that a poor set of results for the Conservatives could lead to a moment of danger for the Prime Minister, internal rebels have laid down their arms after admitting that they have not persuaded enough MPs to join them to force a vote of confidence in Sunak’s leadership. Regardless, the results have reopened questions over whether the Party is “conservative enough” and former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, and former Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick, have been leading the charge to insist on a more right-wing agenda for the party.

In a similar vein, the Green Party gained 64 councillors and, although this didn’t result in majority control of a single council, it is reflective of a group within the electorate who support climate-related policies and feel apathetic toward the major two parties. For progressives frustrated at Starmer’s leadership and more centrist approach to policy, the Greens offer an outlet for a form of leftist politics that Labour is struggling to accommodate within its ‘broad church’. This is

something that Starmer’s team will be watching more closely, with further movement to the Greens anticipated amongst Labour’s hard left.

The local elections offer an opportunity for voters to communicate their frustrations at national government whilst expressing their discontent about place-based issues and the results from the 2024 elections reflect this. Ultimately however, their impact – and one’s ability to predict what will happen on a national scale based on these results – should not be overstated.

The turnout for local elections is typically substantially lower than that for general elections, meaning a narrower pool of voters’ views are expressed. Further to this, the public tend to vote differently in local elections compared to general elections where perceptions of the party leaders play a more significant role. The records of Sunak and Starmer are therefore likely to become even more relevant to voting decisions in the future – something both parties have cause to be concerned about.

Whilst widespread frustrations at the mainstream political landscape appear to have pushed some voters into the arms of alternative parties like Reform and the Greens, this is unlikely to be translated to the same degree on a national scale as votes for third parties then to be inflated in the local elections. Labour remains a good distance ahead in the polls and the two main parties are predicted to sweep up 67.0% of the vote between them, leaving little room for multi-party politics to arise.

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