Polling stations are open today for England’s local council elections. Boroughs across the country will see voters choosing their councillor, and with hundreds of seats at play, by the end of the election there could be a dramatic shift in overall council control in the UK.
This is the first time most voters in England will have had their say on the running of the country since the June 2017 general election.
Where are the local elections taking place?
In London, all 32 boroughs are up for election this year. There are currently 21 seats under Labour majority control, 9 under the Conservatives, 1 under the Liberal Democrats and 1 under no overall control.
In the Metropolitan Boroughs, comprising the North and Midlands, all council seats are up for election. This means all wards in Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle Upon Tyne are up for grabs.
Local authority Mayoral elections will also be taken place in Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Watford, and a metropolitan mayoral election will take place in South Yorkshire.
Though much election coverage has been around London so far – where all 32 boroughs have their seats up for election, the majority of the seats up for election in May actually lie outside the capital.
On the campaign trail
Nearly all of the seats in this year’s election have not been up for grabs since the 2014 local election.
Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have begun to ramp up their rhetoric around local councils in the last few weeks. One Prime Minister’s Questions session in March saw Jeremy Corbyn repeatedly grill Theresa May on the state of local councils, claiming many are underfunded, including Conservative-run Northamptonshire council, which effectively went bankrupt earlier in the year.
Campaigning on a local level has seen a different approach between the two biggest parties. Planning for the election has taken a long time for the Conservative party, with one cabinet minister claiming in February that the party were yet to have a ‘proper plan’ in place. This lack of planning is a cause for concern as the party is still weakened from the June 2017 general election results, where it lost its Parliamentary majority.
Jeremy Corbyn has fronted Labour’s position as a fight against austerity on a local level. At the first stop of Labour’s local campaign, in Trafford, Manchester, the Corbyn claimed that people “pay more for less” under Conservative rule – a sentiment running through much of the wider Labour party’s campaign rhetoric. Indeed much of Labour’s focus will be in areas in the North and the Midlands, where the party is seen to be at a greater risk of losing voters.
How are things looking so far?
In London, many are predicting that Labour could gain an even bigger share of control than it has currently (already holding 21 of 32 council seats), largely due to the results of the June general election, which saw the party gain three seats from the Conservatives in the capital. Some are predicting that even Wandsworth, one of the last Conservative strongholds in London, could see an upset in a victory by Labour in May. The council, which is known for having one of the lowest levels of council tax in the country, has been under Conservative majority control since the 1980s.
In February, Conservative chairman Brandon Lewis admitted that the election vote will be “really difficult” for party, citing London as the biggest challenge for the Tories. A poll by Queen Mary University of London in February showed the Conservatives were trailing Labour by 54 per cent to 28 per cent across the capital.
Despite this increase in public support for the Labour party, the recent stories of antisemitism, which have focused on Jeremy Corbyn in the last week, are a new cause for concern, and could lead to a loss of support, especially amongst the Jewish community. Corbyn faced a backlash after a social media comment made by the Labour leader, supporting an artist’s mural which has been interpreted as anti-semitic.
How to vote in the local election
Some polling stations will require voters to bring ID. A new government scheme is being trialled in five areas in the local elections.Voters in Bromley, Gosport, Swindon, Watford and Woking will be asked to provide ID. 40 campaign groups have written to constitution minister Chloe Smith in a letter organised by the Electoral Reform Society, calling for it to be scrapped, but the trial of the scheme is likely to go ahead.
If you have any questions about the status of your registration after you have applied, you can find and contact your local registration office.
What do local councils do?
Councils are responsible for providing local services, and maintaining facilities.
Some responsibilities of the council include:
Leisure and recreation facilities
Parks and public places
Regulation of local business
Roads and footpaths
Waste and recycling
In the local election, councillors argue why they (and their party) are best suited to handle these responsibilities. They will offer their own morals, and past record, as to reasons why they should receive your vote – against the record of other parties.
On 3 May, politics, at least on a local level, could look very different than it does now. The events of the past two years leave a somewhat unpredictable outcome, with the only certainty being that the result will give some clarity to the country’s overall political outlook.
How can I find out more about my local councillors?
You can find out who the councillors for your local area are on gov.uk.