On The 2022 Local Elections

This round of local elections sits at a juncture. Amidst stories of sleaze and scandal, this election is the first in some time that the opposition party has held a lead on the governing party in the opinion polls; the Conservatives on 34% and Labour some six points ahead.[1] On the one hand, a rise in the number of voters for the Conservative Party at the local level will indicate a will to progress beyond ‘Partygate’ and consent to the Governing party’s programme to tackle to the current cost of living crisis. On the other, however, a broad increase in the share of the vote for the opposition parties will indicate the diametric opposite. Subsequently, this will place an inordinate amount of pressure on the Conservative leadership both externally, in relation to the number of councils and council seats they control, and internally, perhaps leading to a divide in the party as to the current status and competency of its leadership.

Indeed, amidst the evidence presented by Edward Fieldhouse (et.al.) in their ‘Electoral Shocks: The Volatile Voter in a Turbulent World’, we cannot expunge the fact that the British electorate is comprised of so-called ‘volatile voters’ on an aggregate level. Building on the work of Ascher and Tarrow, for Fieldhouse (et.al.) this should be understood as “the net change within the electoral party system resulting from vote transfers”.[2] This is significant as we can see that the twenty-first century has, thus far, seen the British voter unanchored from factors effecting traditional voting alignment, such as class, implying that our political system is now far more susceptible to events and ‘electoral shocks’ that may have seemed unthinkable in the past. The collapse of the so-called ‘Red Wall’ in 2019 is an excellent illustration of such a phenomenon.[3] Therefore, at this juncture, it is possible that the British electorate could go either way, to either: (a) undermine the tectonic legitimacy of the Conservative leadership’s broad mandate, or, (b) uphold the status-quo.

The purpose of this piece will be to examine historical data patterns from UK local elections since 1997, undergoing both a descriptive and analytical investigation so to ascertain the salience of any particular trends that may be located across the period. 1997 has been chosen for two reasons. Firstly, it marks the period since Tony Blair’s New Labour ascended to power – broadly encompassing both long-term Labour and Conservative governments to prevent selection bias of period – and, secondly, twenty-five years have passed since 1997 – a tidy and neat period of choice that can allow for statistically significant regression analysis of the data. In order to examine local elections data since 1997, this piece will be divided into two sections. The initial section shall centre focus on national data, whilst the second will look at a handful of councils that will be interesting to observe, prior to some concluding thoughts. Apologies in advance if only a handful of these are discussed. 

National Vote Share (%)

Figure 1(a) details Popular Vote Share at Local Elections across all UK authorities from 1997 to 2021. What can be observed? Descriptively, we can see that, on average, the order is as follows: The Conservative Party come top of the list with 34.16%, Labour – 30.07%, Liberal Democrats (LD) – 19.88%, Green – 3.84%, UKIP – 3.71%, Independent – 4.33%, Other – 4.01%. Thus, across the period the Tories are, on average, the most popular. How does this fare with recent years? In 2021, the Conservatives achieved over one standard deviation (+1σ) from the mean of the period, gaining 40.5% - 9.4% higher than in 2019. Labour, on the other hand, increased in the same period by just 0.5%, to 27%. As for the LD, the party has consistently gained less than their mean for the period since 2010, and, as we shall see, will more than likely continue to be the case if polling is correct. The Greens, however, have rocketed. At the beginning of the period, the Greens achieved a modest 0.6%. Last year, in 2021, this had increased to 9.1%, now thumping at the door of some 10% - some +3σ from the mean of the period. The story of UKIP is well known now, however, for the sake of clarity: in 1997 UKIP do not poll, by 2013 this had increased to 19.9%, and then returned to a minimal 0.1% in 2021 – a wave that has certainly had its effect on British politics.

As far as one can tell descriptively, from 2009 onwards a two-party system is thoroughly observable. With each election, the position for highest vote share flips between the two major parties. Odd years see the Conservatives ahead, whereas elections on even years pushes labour ahead. There are a number of potential reasons for this. The most significant of these is that odd years tend to see English County Council Elections, which the Conservatives have typically dominated the landscape of. Equally, in even years, a greater number of Labour strongholds are up for election. This presents the rather obviously noticeable concertina one can observe in Figure 1(b) after 2009 that isn’t present prior. Nonetheless, there is no significant trend (where P < 0.05) for the two major parties across the period, so although it is an even year, we should not automatically assume Labour are determined by electoral pattern to seize the highest share of the vote, nonetheless, it is statistically likely.

What can we see if we look at the trends however? Are there any statistically significant trends across the period? If we examine Figures 1(a) and 1(b), there are two trends worth highlighting. The first is that of the Liberal Democrats. Since 1997, the LD share of the vote nationally at local elections has moderately decreased as time has increased, on the whole. This relationship is so rigid, consistent, strong and significant that we should statistically expect it to continue into 2022.[4] Saying this, under a normal distribution curve there is only a 1:4 probability that the LD vote share will drop below its 2021 share. Thus, we should expect LD vote share to increase, but not above one standard deviation from the mean; in fact, a return to the mean will be more probable - if it increases at all that is.

The second trend which can be highlighted is that of the Green Party. As discussed above, the Greens have gone from strength to strength since 1997. Subsequently, after some regression analysis, we can see that as time increases so to does the Green Party’s share of the vote on the local level nationally, almost at an equitable rate I might add; one more intimately connected to the time then that of the decrease we see for the LDs.[5] Indeed, we may even see this increase to above 10% of the national vote, which would be a first for a party nationally that is not one of the big three – at least in modern politics. All the same, under a normal distribution curve there is only a 1-in-10 probability of this occurring.

Overall, then, what can we expect if these trends hold? The conservatives should decrease in their share of the vote on 2021 (gaining between 25-35%). Labour should increase their share (gaining between 33-43%). The Liberal Democrats shall either increase by a small amount or decrease by an even more minute sum (gaining between 14.5-19.5%). The Green Party shall either decrease its share or remain stable – especially given that their share was exceptionally high in 2021. However, we should expect this share of the popular vote to still remain above +2σ from the mean for the period (gaining between 7-10%). Lastly, do not expect UKIP to gain more than a single percent, given their current circumstances.

A Handful of Councils 

Castle Point – Comprises of the area around Canvey Island in Essex. If the Tories lose a single seat, then the council flips to NOC. Conservatives currently hold 21 Seats (51%) and are challenged by a mix of independents and the Canvey Island Independents group, who hold a collective 20 seats (49%). There has been a significant decrease in the Labour vote since 1999, which currently sits at 13.6% but was at 53.3% at the start of the period.[1] The Conservatives gained 42.7% of the vote share in 2021, but this was a decrease of 2.1% on 2019.

Colchester – The City of Colchester in Essex. The Council has been without overall control since 2008, however the Conservatives need three more seats to push it into their control. Currently, the Tories hold 23 of its 51 seats (some 49%). After the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats are the second most popular. On average, since 1998, the Lib Dems have secured 30.86% of the popular vote. Nonetheless, in 2021, the Lib Dems gained only 19.7% of the vote share; a full 25.1% lesser than the conservatives, who achieved  two standard-deviations from their mean in the period from 1998. Although the Tories vote share did drop by over 2%  from 2019, the Lib Dem’s share of the vote in the same period has been slowly decreasing with time also, but at a far greater rate.[2] Equally, in 2021 Labour recorded their highest share of the vote in Colchester since 2012 – at 22.5%. All this said, the Lib Dems and Labour currently hold only 12 and 11 seats respectively, unable to compete with the Conservatives for overall control. They can however seek to keep the council without overall control, but the Tories will be fighting for those three.

Crawley – Crawley, in West Sussex, has also been without overall control for some years, previously held by both the Labour and Conservative parties at points throughout the past decade. Now however, the 2022 election will likely see a single party take control of the council, as after the 2021 election the Conservative held 18 seats and Labour 17 – 50% and 47% respectively. Labour needs two seats to take control and the Tories but one. The first thing to note about Crawley is that it is a three-horse race, with seats being only filled by candidates from the big three parties since 1998. However, as it stands, the two-party system is alive and well in Crawley, due to the salient fact that the Lib Dems hold not a single seat on the council and only gained 4.1% of the total popular vote in 2021; surprisingly a 2.1% increase on 2019. Indeed, since 1998 the Lib Dems have seen their share of the vote drop from a height of 22.3% in 2003 to where they are today, a thoroughly statistically significant decrease.[3] The vote share for the Tories, however, has been steadily rising across the same period, not at the same rate of the Lib Dem’s decrease, but going from 23.1% in 1998 to 48.6% in 2021.[4] This is significant as it tells us that if Crawley is to fall under the control of any single party, the statistical likelihood given past trends would suggests it would be the Conservatives who do this. Nevertheless, if Labour overtake the Conservatives as the most popular party, such a statistical likelihood will more than likely be broken.  

Elmbridge – Elmbridge is a council in the North of Surrey, and has been under no overall control since 2016, but previously controlled by the Conservatives. In this case, the Conservatives are within a short distance of taking the council back, requiring only three more seats than they currently hold (22) to form a majority. Since 1998, on average the Tories have received the greatest share of the vote – some 43.02%. Second to the Conservatives is neither of the other two major parties, but rather the local Resident’s Neighbourhood association, who in the same period averaged at 30.15%. In 2021, the association won seven of the 16 seats available, bringing their total presence on the council to 16, six behind the Tories. In normal circumstances, this would not be considered an interesting seat to look at. However, the data since the Major years does not present any statistically significant correlations with time and it sits in the middle of what would normally be considered Conservative heartland. Thus, as far as being able to predict whether or not the Tories will achieve the three seats necessary to regain control of the council, one cannot tell – meaning it will more than likely remain without overall control. Nonetheless, it will provide an excellent barometer for Conservative support in the Home Counties, at least as it stands in May 2022, given that they are the only political party to have made any ground in the council territory.

Gosport – Gosport, near Portsmouth in Hampshire, has been held by the Conservatives since they ascended to power nationally in 2010. At this local election, the Tories are in the extraordinary position of teetering on the edge of losing the council to no overall control by any one party. As it stands, they hold 56% of the seats (19), but the loss of just two seats at this juncture will see their overall control lost for the time being. Behind them, with 14 seats (41%) are the Lib Dems, who, like the Conservatives, gained a seat in 2021. In fact, since 1998, the Conservatives have been gaining seats at a statistically significant rate with time.[5] This has been matched, almost equally one might add, with the decline in seats by Labour; in 1998 holding sex seats, reduced to none 2021.

Random Notes

Tory GAINS in London so far:

Enfield (+7)

Brent (+1)

Sutton (+2)

Labour in these Councils:

Enfield = +1

Brent = -8

Sutton = +3


Changes So far: 

Rossendale - NOC➡️Lab

Hull - Lab➡️LD

Huntingdonshire - Con➡️NOC

Worcester - Con➡️NOC

West Oxfordshire - Con➡️NOC

Wokingham - Con➡️NOC

Maidstone - Con➡️NOC

Castle Point - Con➡️NOC

Southampton - Con➡️Lab

Barnet - Con➡️Lab

Wandsworth - Con➡️Lab

Westminster - Con➡️Lab



As far as national turnout is concerned - since 1997 averages are as follows, by council type:

- Unitary - 40.06% (σ = 12.337) - 

- Metropolitan - 35.32% (σ = 9.862)

- District - 39.38% (σ = 10.275)

- Scottish Unitary - 49.62% (σ = 6.565)

Not one of these, since 1997, holds a statistically significant regression either increasing or decreasing with time. As such it is difficult to tell whether or not turnout, as a national whole, will go up or down. That said, the likelihood is that it will decrease but without breaking a single standard deviation from the mean for each council type. 


BBC and John Curtice projecting National Vote Share (%) at:

Con - 30%

Lab - 35%

LD - 19%

Which almost mirrors the differential that Politico’s Poll of Polls estimated on the day of the locals in 2021 to the actual results (%):

Con -2.5

Lab -7

LD +8.3

Equally, this would fall within the margins of prediction that were projected yesterday and posted in the 'National Vote Share' section above. 


Figure 1(a) - Vote Share (%) by Different Parties Across All Local Authorities At UK Local Elections (1997-2021)

Figure 1(b) - Vote Share (%) by Different Parties Across All Local Authorities At UK Local Elections (1997-2021) [Graphic]

[1] Politico (2022 May 5th) Poll of Polls: United Kingdom. politico.eu. Available at: https://www.politico. eu/europe-poll-of-polls/united-kingdom/.

[2] Fieldhouse, E., Green, J., Evans, G., Mellon, J., Prosser, C., Schmitt, H., and Van Der Eijk, C. (2020) Electoral Shocks: The Volatile Voter in a Turbulent World. Oxford: OUP, p.9; Ascher, W. and Tarrow, S. (1975) ‘The Stability of Communist Electorates: Evidence from a Longitudinal Analysis of French and Italian Aggregate Data’. American Journal of Political Science, 19(3): 475-499.

[3] For a discussion and definition of the ‘Red Wall’, see: Kanagasooriam J, Simon E. (2021) Red Wall: The Definitive Description. Political Insight, 12(3): 8-11.

[4] R = -0.7908, p = 0.00001. According to polling on May 5th, this would be consistent with such an analysis.

[5] R = 0.8941, p = 0.00001

[1] =-0.7753, p = 0.000684

[2] R =-0.7555, p = 0.000713

[3] = -0.8096, = 0.00001

[4] = 0.6561, p = 0.000914

[5] R = 0.6967, p = 0.011817