6 Takeaways From The Local Elections: What You Need To Know

Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer
Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer Getty

The local elections were expected to be pretty miserable for the Conservatives, but the reality was even worse than many in the party had feared.

As millions vast their votes on Thursday, it was seen as the last significant test of the government – and their political opponents – ahead of this year’s general election.

Here’s what we learnt, and what it could tell us about the upcoming general election.

1. Just one glimmer of hope amid a sea of Tory misery

There’s no two ways about it: the Tories were well and truly thrashed in the local elections, even in former strongholds.

They lost almost 500 councillors, 10 police and crime commissioners and an influential metropolitan mayor.

A Labour mayor was even elected in Sunak’s own backyard, the new entity of York and North Yorkshire which encompasses the PM’s Richmond constituency.

The only saving grace for the beleaguered PM came from the Tories’ win in Tees Valley, where Ben Houchen won his third term as mayor – the other 10 contested mayorships went to Labour.

But, this win is widely believed to be down to support for him personally, not the Conservatives as a whole.

Houchen also played down his connections to the party and the PM in his campaign.

Andy Street, the outgoing West Midlands mayor, was expected to be a shoo-in for the Tories.

However, in a major shock to the Conservatives, he lost by barely 1,500 votes to Labour’s Richard Parker.

And, despite optimistic reports that the London mayoral race would be a tight one between Labour’s incumbent Sadiq Khan and the Tory challenger Susan Hall, Khan won by a very comfortable margin with 43.7% of the vote.

2. Sunak blamed but not ousted

As Sunak’s first major electoral test as Tory leader, the prime minister has definitely been left with even more bruises than he might have been expecting.

But it does not seem like Tory rebels want to push him out this close to a general election (which, at most, is a few months away).

Former minister Dame Andrea Jenkyns was one of the two MPs to openly call for Sunak to leave office, but she changed tactic on Friday, acknowledging the rebellion was not large enough to have the desired effect.

Even when former home secretary Suella Braverman made it clear on Sunday she regretted backing Sunak to be PM, she added that she does not want him out of office – for now.

But, Braverman did say the party needs to change direction and go further right.

However, one of the PM’s most loyal ministers Mark Harper insisted the plan is working on his Sunday broadcast round – suggesting that Sunak is not in the mood to change direction now.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak congratulates Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen on his re-election – the one bit of good news for the Tories.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak congratulates Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen on his re-election – the one bit of good news for the Tories. Ian Forsyth via Getty Images

3. Labour emerge as the overall winners

The first result to come in revealed Labour had ousted the Conservatives from its Blackpool South seat in the by-election.

While not part of the local elections, this by-election did fall on the same day and set Labour up for a stream of victories.

Chris Webb beat his Tory opponent with a 26% swing – the third largest towards the party since World War 2.

It’s a continuation of the party’s almost-perfect winning streak since Sunak got into office: Labour has won all but one of the 13 by-elections since October 2022.

Labour’s victory in the West Midlands mayoral race was another shock – even to the party. Starmer later admitted: “This phenomenal result was beyond our expectations.”

The party also ended up with the most councillors with 1,158 in total across England – that’s more than double the number the Conservatives have – as well as an overall majority in 51 councils.

4. But it was not all plain-sailing for Labour 

There’s no doubt that Starmer’s party suffered from a decline in support from the Muslim community.

Labour’s stance on the Israel-Gaza conflict as the party has been condemned by pro-Palestine quarters for being too passive, with Starmer often criticised over not calling for a ceasefire fast enough.

This decline was most obvious in Greater Manchester’s Oldham where Labour lost overall control of the council.

The party’s vote share fell by eight percentage points in Oldham wards where more than a tenth of the electorate are Muslim.

Labour was also unsure of its victory in the West Midlands before the final vote was called because of this.

It feared it had lost voters to the independent candidate Akhmed Yakoob, backed by the controversial but vocal pro-Palestine advocate George Galloway.

Labour’s national campaign coordinator Pat McFadden also admitted that Starmer’s stance has been an “issue” on the doorstep.

Labour candidate for West Midlands Mayor Richard Parker celebrates his victory with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer
Labour candidate for West Midlands Mayor Richard Parker celebrates his victory with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer Anthony Devlin via Getty Images

5. A boost for the Lib Dems, Greens and Reform UK

When examining the vote share, it’s clear the smaller parties were snapping on the heels of the top two parties this week.

Reform UK nearly beat the Tories into second place in the Blackpool South by-election with 16.9% of the vote.

The party also secured around 11% in the few council wards it contested – apparently at the cost of the Conservatives.

But it’s worth remembering that the former Brexit Party still walked away with just two councillors.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have emerged with the second-highest number of councillors, 521, putting the party above the Conservatives who lag slightly behind with 513 councillors.

The Green Party was also jubilant after its success in Bristol. While it missed out on an overall majority, it is by far the largest party in the area, winning 34 of the 70 seats.

6. What does this mean for the next general election?

If looking solely at the local elections results – and assuming voters would vote the same way in a general election – it seems like it will be a hung parliament.

A Sky News projection based on the vote share from the local elections predicted Labour would technically be the largest party in the Commons, but fall short of a majority by 32 seats.

It projected that Starmer’s party would win 35% of the vote share while the Conservatives would secure 26%.

This is echoed by the BBC’s projection of national vote share.

However, it is worth noting that the local elections alone are not enough to predict what may happen at the next general election.

After all, people do tend to vote for smaller parties at local elections, and these projections do not consider the votes for nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales, because neither nation had any local elections there – and nor did Northern Ireland.

Voters have, in the past, also punished parties at local elections only to reward them at general elections.

For instance, in 2015, the Conservatives won a majority despite actually securing a worse set of results than Labour at the previous local elections.

But, when the last three days is looked at in the context of abysmal opinion polls and a run of by-election losses after 14 years in power, the main message is clear; voters are shifting away from the Tories.