The results are in. 426 councillors have been elected to the 22 Councils in the East of England. Some people will have voted on local issues, some for individual candidates they liked or trusted, others will have used the election to express their view about national politics.
The starting point
So what do we make of the results? First, at local level we didn’t expect great change. In 19 of the 22 contested Councils only a third of seats are up for election in one year, making it less likely that control would change hands anywhere.
There are three Councils where all seats were being elected. In South Cambridgeshire and St Albans, the Liberal Democrats already had a firm majority. In the third, Huntingdonshire, the main opposition to the ruling Conservatives was a large contingent of Independents.
In the remaining 19 Councils, these specific seats were last contested in 2018, a year when Labour was at its peak of popularity, so even with a swing in vote-share, it would be difficult for them to capture more this time. Simply retaining the seats they held would be a substantial achievement compared to their disastrous general election performance in 2019. In the remaining places where the Conservatives are vulnerable, the most obvious opponents are often the Liberal Democrats rather than Labour.
What has happened?
The overall pattern in the East is probably good news for the advocates of a progressive alliance. There is a clear swing away from the Conservatives, although this is not uniform across the region. In general, the progressive vote is consolidating around whichever party is in the lead. In most cases this is the Liberal Democrats, who have done very well here. In the Eastern Region the overall total seat changes are:
The Conservatives have lost control of three Councils in this region.
In Castle Point in South Essex, Conservatives lost six seats to an Independent group, who now have a majority.
In Huntingdonshire Conservatives lost eight seats to a mix of Independents, Liberal Democrats and one Green, leaving no party in overall control for the first time since 1976.
In Colchester, where Conservatives had led a minority administration with Independents, they lost four seats, two each to Labour and Liberal Democrats. The most likely outcome here is a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition.
The most dramatic change is in St Albans, where the Liberal Democrats previously had a majority of one seat. They have gained 20 seats, mainly from the Conservatives, who have been reduced to only four seats, and Labour now has no seats at all.
In other areas Conservatives and Labour both gained some seats and lost some others.
(All data from the BBC Website)
Local elections: the national implications
Although many people will have voted on local issues and personalities, the results will also be studied for evidence of what might happen in a general election. For this, the total vote share is a better indicator than the number of seats won and lost (which reflect the distribution of people within the constituency). In three constituencies that Labour would hope to win in a general election – Peterborough, Stevenage, and Ipswich – the Labour vote share rose, although they only gained one seat in Stevenage, two in Ipswich, and none in Peterborough.
Overall, the news is good for the Opposition parties. In most of the key Councils whichever progressive party was already in the lead consolidated its hold. This could represent voters choosing to vote tactically for non-Conservative candidates.
For Labour to form a government in Westminster they would probably need the Conservatives to lose the following eight constituencies in the East to a progressive party, either Labour or Liberal Democrat. The Council election results for these are as follows:
No change of seats, leaving the Conservative/Independent coalition still in control. However, the Labour vote share rose. The sitting Conservative MP has a majority of only 2,580, after taking it from Labour in 2019, when the 2019 progressive vote share was 48 percent, and there was only a small LibDem presence.
Liberal Democrats consolidated their firm hold, taking one seat each from Labour and Independent to give them a majority of 18. The current Conservative MP has a majority of only 4,433, with a 2019 progressive vote share of 54 percent. In that year Labour came comfortably second to the Conservative, but the strong Liberal Democrat showing in this election raises questions about how the progressive vote can be activated to defeat the Conservatives.
Norwich City is Labour controlled, with the Greens as the main opposition party. Although Greens took one seat from Labour, Labour still have a majority of eleven seats. The current Conservative MP has a majority of only 4,738, with a progressive vote share of 48 percent.
Labour took two seats from Conservatives, giving them a comfortable majority of 20 seats over the Conservatives. The current Conservative MP has a small majority of 5,479, after taking it from Labour in 2019, when the progressive vote share was 47 percent.
Conservatives were in control, in alliance with Independents. This time they lost two seats to Labour and two to LibDems, and the Conservative leader lost his seat. One Independent lost to Labour. This gives Labour and LibDems together an absolute majority of eight seats over the Conservatives. Although the Conservative MP has a decent majority of 9,423, the progressive vote share in 2019 was 50 percent.
Labour consolidated their hold, taking one seat from Conservatives to give them a majority of nine. The Conservative MP has a modest majority of 8,562. Labour clearly has local strength, and the 2019 progressive vote share was 47 percent.
Liberal Democrat targets
Liberal Democrats consolidated their hold. They took Labour’s two remaining seats, four votes from Conservatives, and two from Independents, giving them a majority of 29. This is a strong base to win the constituency from the South Cambridgeshire MP who has a small Conservative majority of 2,904 and a 54 percent progressive vote
Hitchin and Harpenden
The Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition consolidated its hold in North Hertfordshire, half of which is in the Hitchin and Harpenden constituency. The Conservatives lost 4 seats, 2 each to Labour and Liberal Democrats, giving the coalition a majority of 11. In the constituency the Conservative MP has a majority of only 6,895, and the 2019 progressive vote share was 52 percent (two thirds of it, Liberal Democrat).