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Local elections insight blog

26th April 2021 By Matt Joy
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Britain is going to the polls again on 6th May for local elections. Social’s Yorkshire public affairs team have had a look at some of the key battlegrounds here in Yorkshire and how the results could affect development, planning and council leaderships.

Metro Mayors

West Yorkshire chooses its first Metro Mayor with Labour’s Tracy Brabin MP considered the frontrunner to win the position. The credibility of the West Yorkshire Mayor may depend upon a decent turnout to empower the new Mayor with electoral authority. Whilst the local elections normally see lower turnouts, will voters be enthused enough by devolution and the post-pandemic recovery to make their way to a polling booth for the first time since December 2019? It was a different world back then.

Tees Valley will be fascinating as Tory Mayor Ben Houchen looks to defend his position. Mayor Houchen has been awash with Government investment plans over recent months and he is campaigning on his record of saving Teesside Airport from closure, freeport status and his role as a successful negotiator with Government. If Labour’s Jessie Joe Jacobs can win this will provide a massive boost for Labour and spark a political tide change in Teesside where Labour were so dominant.

Where’s it quiet?

It’s going to be a quiet affair in North Yorkshire with no local authority elections in Harrogate, York, Ryedale and Hambleton. They will be receiving ballots though as they elect a new Police and Crime Commissioner.

West Yorkshire – a key battleground

West Yorkshire is where a lot of the action is, with all local authorities in the patch putting 1/3 of seats up for election and the inaugural West Yorkshire Mayor will be elected.

In Leeds, the most interesting contests will be in the more rural wards as the Conservatives hope to either gain or defend their seats. The greenbelt and planning are always a key campaigning issue in wards like Horsforth and Pudsey, so we can look on with interest at that contest with all the major parties hoping to make a positive showing. The new council leader James Lewis will defend his seat but holds a healthy majority so don’t expect any change here.

Labour controlled Bradford will be worth a watch as Labour’s slim majority is put to the test. Several leading councillors are up for election and with the Bradford Local Plan going through recent consultation we can expect opposition councillors to campaign hard on keeping land in the green belt.

In Kirklees the Labour administration has no overall majority following a spate of resignations last year, so they’ll be looking to regain that majority as council leader Shabir Pandor is up for election.

It would be surprising to see a coalition of opposition parties take control in Kirklees, but there is a significant chance that Labour will continue to operate without a majority. This would hamper their ability to push through planning and economic development priorities.

What of the Liberal Democrats?

Once a Party of Government, the demise of the Liberal Democrats has been well documented over the last decade. The Party was a ruler of local authorities throughout the nation and frequently enjoyed a ground swell of support in local election campaigns. If we are ever to witness a revival of Britain’s ‘third party’, this is where the comeback would need to begin.

Historically, the Lib Dems have enjoyed good success in authorities like Sheffield City Council. The Party was the ruling administration from 2008-2010, but has endured a steady decline since then. With 26 seats, they remain the official opposition but will harbour hopes of one day reclaiming the authority. Sheffield will be a BIG test for the Party, mounting a defence on six of its own seats, whilst hoping to make a dent on the 19 Labour seats up for grabs. Once the home of Nick Clegg’s 15,000 Lib Dem majority, the Party will need to make inroads here if it’s to ever make a serious impact on British politics again.

Of even more importance to the Lib Dems is Hull City Council. The ruling party from 2007 – 2011, they remain the official opposition, with the Labour majority at a slender seven seats.  The Lib Dems will need to defend eight of their own seats, before considering an offensive campaign on the eleven Labour seats up for grabs. Gains or losses here would make a real statement about the Party’s direction of travel.

Who cares?

These are massive elections for English devolution, with Metro Mayors throughout the nation facing the electorate. The future of public transport, development, waste collection and much more will be on the table.

But will the importance of these elections be reflected in voter turnout? The events of the last year have enhanced the role of local authorities in our lives, but will the pandemic and easing of lockdown restrictions impact who turns up to vote.