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In this blog, Chris Brown, Senior Consultant at Engage Planning and Local Councillor on South Norfolk Council looks at what May 6th could hold in the biggest local elections since the reorganisation of local government in 1973!

On 6 May 2021, there are a range of elections being held across England. There are 145 County, Unitary and District Councils holding elections, for around 5,000 seats. Some of these elections were postponed from May 2020, due to the pandemic, and so there are many more councillors to be elected. In fact, these elections are the biggest local elections since the reorganisation of local government in 1973. 

Alongside this, there are elections for 13 Mayors, the London Assembly, 39 Police & Crime Commissioners and even one Parliamentary by-election, not to mention various Parish Councils and local Neighbourhood Plan referenda.

In some areas, electors may have as many as six votes to cast on Thursday!

So, what will happen and what impact could it have?

Will national issues or local issues win out?

As with all local elections, voters will decide their positions based on a plethora of national and local issues. National parliament polling is showing the Conservatives well ahead of Labour, around 43% to 34%, with the Lib Dems hovering around 8% and the Greens around 5%. 

Local issues will have a big influence on individual areas, though, with them driving decisions for many, possibly most, voters. The last year has brought the importance of local councils to the forefront, with the response to the pandemic and now local recovery plans. Other issues such as the protection of the Green Belt will be uppermost for some areas.

What about voter turnout? Typically, local election turnout is low, at around 33% in 2018 and as low as 25% in some areas. There is a big question over this years’ turnout, given the ongoing Covid restrictions and the potential fear factor for many. Differential turnout (the variation between different groups) could also influence results; typically, older age groups would have the highest turnout, but this year could see younger people more confident to go out and vote. Local political campaigning was also severely impacted by the lockdown, with much campaigning only becoming possible in March. There has been a large push towards postal voting this year, but many still fear that turnout overall will be down.

Ones to watch

In terms of the results, half of the seats being contested were last up for election in 2017, when Labour was significantly behind the Conservatives in the polls, and some seats were last contested in 2016. Therefore, it would be expected that Labour should make gains this time around. 

Some areas will be key to watch. In particular, there are three newly formed Councils up for election for the first time following reorganisations; North Northamptonshire, West Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire Council. Others have seen boundary changes so the entire council is up for election, including Basingstoke & Deane, Cambridge, Chorley, Oxford and Pendle. Some others currently with No Overall Control could present surprises, such as Milton Keynes, Peterborough, Portsmouth and Southend. Whatever happens, there are certain to be surprises and upsets this year.

The questions over the pandemic response and the success of the vaccination programme on voter opinions, the unknown influence of turnout and so many elections happening at once, means that the outcome is immensely difficult to judge, but it will have implications for all in the years to come. 

Chris Brown, Senior Consultant at Engage Planning

Local Councillor on South Norfolk Council

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