Luke Akehurst: Labour’s strengths and where it must improve ahead of local elections

Luke Akehurst

I’ve been reviewing Labour’s performance in local council by-elections on a regular basis for LabourList. So what has happened on this front in the period since the New Year?

Here, in the same format as I have presented them previously, is the change in Labour vote share in all the council by-elections where there has been a Labour candidate in the last two contests (to allow a comparison to be drawn). The results are grouped by region so you can see the pattern around the country.

The number of by-elections falls off in this part of the year due to the “six month rule” – vacancies in councils with elections this May that occur within six months of the main polling day can be left empty and filled at the May elections.

There have therefore been no by-elections in London at all, as the whole of London has elections this May, and very few in other metropolitan areas. This skews the whole sample as these are the best areas for Labour, and it means you have to be careful about making assumptions about likely performance in the May elections.

Compared to the second half of 2017, when the pattern was of a relatively even increase in the Labour vote across all the regions and nations, there is a lot more geographical variation. Labour is continuing to gain votes in almost every region, but less evenly than before.

The strongest performing regions are Yorkshire and Wales, though in both cases the sample is tiny as there were hardly any by-elections and this could therefore be a statistical fluke.

The South East and South West also performed in line with national opinion polls and the 9.5 per cent increase in the Labour vote seen in the general election. There were particularly good results in southern coastal towns such as Bournemouth, Brighton, Rochester and Weymouth, which are attracting people moving out of London.

The two Midlands regions are mid-table with vote share increases of about half those seen in the South.

Worryingly, things become extremely patchy for Labour in the remaining regions, a pattern that looks connected to Brexit voting patterns in England but clearly has different causes in Scotland. Scotland and the North West both register an anaemic 2.5 per cent average increase in Labour’s vote, whilst Eastern England was up 3 per cent. The North actually sees a drop in Labour’s vote share, albeit on a tiny sample.

Of a total of 54 by-elections during this period, Labour’s vote share was up in 40 of the contests, 74 per cent, which is slightly better than in the second half of 2017. Before the general election, the pattern was the exact reverse.

Eastern – average change in Labour vote +3 per cent

Borehamwood Cowley Hill (Hertsmere)  +3.4 per cent

Little Goffs Oak & Bury Green (Hertfordshire)  -0.8 per cent

Parndon & Hare Street (Harlow)  +7.9 per cent

Northchurch (Dacorum)  -1.7 per cent

Ockendon (Thurrock)  +11.2 per cent

Worstead (North Norfolk)  -1.8 per cent

East Midlands – average change in Labour vote +5.1 per cent

Grassmoor (North East Derbyshire)  -10.3 per cent

Higham Ferrers (Northamptonshire)  +3.5 per cent

Stamford St George’s (South Kesteven)  +0.9 per cent

Wollaton West (Nottingham)  +10.1 per cent

Worksop South East (Bassetlaw)  +21.1 per cent

London – no by-elections

North – average change in Labour vote -6 per cent

Longbeck (Redcar & Cleveland)  +4 per cent

Pallion (Sunderland)  -15.9 per cent

North West – average change in Labour vote +2.5 per cent

Bunbury (Cheshire East)  -3.4 per cent

Droylsden East (Tameside)  +7.4 per cent

Farnworth (Bolton)  -10.2 per cent

Halton Castle (Halton)  +0.2 per cent

Hulton (Bolton)  +3 per cent

Morecambe North (Lancashire)  -0.7 per cent

Page Moss (Knowsley)  +2.4 per cent

Preesall (Wyre)  +9.9 per cent

Wyre Rural Central (Lancashire)  +13.9 per cent

Scotland  – average change in Labour vote +2.5 per cent

Bonnybridge & Larbert (Falkirk)  +8.5 per cent

Clackmannanshire North (Clackmannanshire)  -2.9 per cent

Penicuik (Midlothian)  +2 per cent

South East – average change in Labour vote +8.7 per cent

Birchington & Rural (Kent)  +2.9 per cent

Carterton South (West Oxfordshire)  +2 per cent

Central & Walton (Aylesbury Valey)  +0.9 per cent

Central Wight (Isle of Wight)  +3.2 per cent

East Brighton (Brighton & Hove)   +21 per cent

Kempshott (Basingstoke & Deane)  +16.1 per cent

Marine (Arun)  +7.3 per cent

Newport Pagnell N. & Hanslope (Milton Keynes)  +11.7 per cent

Petersfield Bell Hill (East Hampshire)  -4.9 per cent

Rochester West (Medway)  +26.5 per cent

Ruxley (Epsom & Ewell)  +10.5 per cent

Thanet Villages (Thanet)  +6.6 per cent

South West – average change in Labour vote +9.6 per cent

Bridport (Dorset)  +4.4 per cent

Bridport North (West Dorset)  +9.8 per cent

Chudleigh (Teignbridge)  +7.0 per cent

Exmouth Town (East Devon)  -7.7 per cent

Falmouth Smithwick (Cornwall)  +19.9 per cent

Minehead South (West Somerset)  -0.3 per cent

Throop & Muscliff (Bournemouth)  +15.8 per cent

Tophill East (Weymouth & Portland)  +23.1 per cent

Tophill West (Weymouth & Portland)  +14.4 per cent

Wales – average change in Labour vote +12.8 per cent

Trevethin (Torfaen)  +12.8 per cent

West Midlands – average change in Labour vote +5.2 per cent

Blythe (Solihull)  +4.6 per cent

Codsall (Staffordshire)  +0.8 per cent

Leek West (Staffordshire Moorlands)  +23.6 per cent

Stretton (East Staffordshire)  -2 per cent

Stowe (Lichfield)  -0.9 per cent

Yorkshire & Humber – average change in Labour vote +28.7 per cent

Armthorpe (Doncaster)  +34.8 per cent

Holgate (York)  +22.6 per cent

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