Local elections 2019 liveblog – Disappointing but mixed results for Labour

Welcome to LabourList’s local elections 2019 liveblog. Results will be coming in from local elections – 8,425 seats up in 248 councils across England – plus six mayoral contests in Bedford, Copeland, Leicester, Mansfield, Middlesbrough and North of Tyne. Oh, and Northern Ireland, where we’ll be keeping an eye on SDLP votes. This liveblog is now closed.

18.40 Most of the results from English council elections are now in, and I need to make dinner and get a bit of kip before Newsnight. Let’s have a look at where we’ve ended up.

Labour has lost five councils and 77 seats overall to paint a disappointing picture, while the Tories have lost 41 councils and 1,239 seats overall in an unambiguously disastrous result. UKIP failed to get enough willing candidates together to make any progress. The Lib Dems, Greens and Independents did very well.

The results kicked off last night with poor returns for Labour in Sunderland, unfortunately setting the mood for the hours of analysis that followed. If you can call it analysis. Discussion of Labour results has largely revolved around the party’s warring Brexit factions, each of which interpreted the data as proving them right – whether it was bad outcomes in Northern Leave areas supposedly showing that the party should get a Brexit deal done (ignoring local factors), or supporters of another referendum pointing out that Remain parties had made impressive gains (ignoring the likely upcoming success of the Brexit Party).

Labour took control of Trafford, Amber Valley, Calderdale and Gravesham, and won the Mansfield and North of Tyne mayoralties. It did remarkably well in the South, saw mixed outcomes in the Midlands and did rather badly in the North. Overall, the results were seen as disappointing, even by leadership figures, with a net loss of councils and seats rather than the net gains that would be expected of an opposition on an election footing.

The main theme of the results seems to have been anti-politics, anti-establishment sentiment, from which small parties and Independent candidates benefitted. For Labour, this particularly manifested itself in the North, where perhaps the party is more likely to be viewed as the establishment. But that is just one theory – there will be plenty of analysis in the coming days. For now, however, I will leave you to reflect on these results. Thank you for visiting our liveblog, and have a great bank holiday weekend.

17.46 Worth watching the full clip of Jeremy Corbyn’s results analysis that is irritating so many Labour Remainers:

17.09 Win: Labour has taken control of Gravesham, the South East’s most heavily Leave-voting area. It is traditional UKIP territory. Another one for those who think the trend runs along geographical rather than Leave/Remain lines.

Stepping back for a moment, it’s worth considering that the top priorities set by Labour were gaining control of Trafford and Calderdale (tick), getting seats off the Tories in Swindon (no tick), and more optimistically winning in Gravesham (tick).

The BBC also has a Commons projection based on these local election results, which show a more hung parliament and Labour as the largest party:

16.55 Labour’s Andy Abrahams has won the Mansfield mayoralty – great news. And there were just two votes in it! Abrahams won 7,930 votes, including first and second preferences, while incumbent Kate Allsop (Mansfield Independent Forum) received a total of 7,928.

Mansfield in the East Midlands is an important area for Labour. The parliamentary seat, which used to be safely red, returned a Tory in 2017 and has been a top target ever since. The sitting MP Ben Bradley only has a slim majority of 1,057, but it’s the kind of place Labour has been struggling to hold on.

Labour’s candidate Sonya Ward, a local councillor, has been heavily promoted by the party and featured in the celebrated party political broadcast ‘Our Town‘ last year.

15.40 Commenting on the news that Momentum member Jamie Driscoll has been elected North of Tyne mayor, Momentum’s spokesperson for the North East John Taylor said:

“Devastated by Thatcherism and blighted by austerity, for decades the North East has been held back by Tory rule. By electing Momentum member Jamie Driscoll as the region’s first mayor, the people of the North East have rejected the economic orthodoxy of the past 40 years and taken back power for their communities.”

“From building good, affordable homes to creating a people’s bank and highly paid, unionised green jobs, Jamie will deliver a transformative, socialist agenda for the North East and we look forward to supporting him as mayor.”

15.02 Canterbury is no longer Tory-controlled. Unexpected swing to us in 2017 general election but we don’t have many councillors there. Rosie Duffield is pleased:

14.50 Breaking: According to the BBC’s projection, Labour and Tories are neck-and-neck in terms of vote share, both on 28%.

14.45 Labourites have now turned to the party’s other top issue on the daily agenda. Yep, if it’s not Brexit, Labour must be rowing about antisemitism. Jeremy Corbyn wrote a letter to Marie Van Der Zyl from the Board of Deputies defending his foreword to J.A. Hobson’s book. Van Der Zyl has replied saying she is “disappointed” by the letter.

14.30 David Lammy is venting some anger in response to the results via the People’s Vote campaign. “Nye Bevan said it: people who sit in the middle of the road get run over. That is what happened to Labour last night – we fudged and hedged on a People’s Vote, hoping we could string voters along – but the bluff has been called.”

The Tottenham MP adds: “A warning shot has been fired. I hope our leadership will now take notice.”

14.25 Back up again. Let’s take a look at the overall picture. The main Labour success stories are in Trafford, where we gained control from NOC, Calderdale, same situation, and Amber Valley, where we won control from Tories.

But there are significant failures to study. Labour has lost control of six councils that it held after 2015: Bolsolver, Burnley, Cannock Chase, DarlingtonHartlepool and Wirral. All except Liverpool’s Wirral voted to Leave in 2016. All except Cannock Chase (West Midlands) are in the North.

13.05 Here’s where we are up to now.

Labour has…

  • Lost two councils
  • Lost a net total of 79 seats

The Tories have…

  • Lost 16 councils
  • Lost a net total of 442 seats

Lib Dems have…

  • Gained 8 councils
  • Gained a net total of 304 seats

Greens and Independents have done well too.

I need to travel again – back with you shortly.

13.00 Corbyn klaxon!

Commenting on the results, the Labour leader says: “Even at this stage of the results, we have won Trafford council and are making gains across the country, including Tory heartlands. Throughout the campaign, we have been putting forward our vision of a better society, and the need to end the austerity imposed on our communities by the Conservatives, along with the Liberal Democrats when they were in the coalition government.

“As well as local issues, voters have been talking to us about how the Tories’ shambolic handling of Brexit is overshadowing everything else. We will continue putting our case for an alternative deal to parliament, and we will put that case to the European Union, because Labour does not want to divide people on how they voted in 2016, we want to bring people together.

“I congratulate all the Labour councillors who have been elected, and I am sorry for those who were not successful. We will fight and win those seats back and, whenever a general election comes, we are absolutely ready for it.”

12.51 Delivering her usual ‘nothing has changed’ message, Theresa May was heckled in Wales:

12.47 I missed this earlier, but should note that Labour has taken control of Amber Valley. This area in the Midlands is exactly the kind of place Labour has been struggling. A Labour/Tory marginal. Very positive sign.

12.33 Well, that feeling was nice while it lasted. It’s now confirmed that Labour has lost control of Cannock Chase. It was Labour-controlled, but only with a one-seat majority, and we knew it was vulnerable.

12.26 I’ve done BBC News and I’m back – with a fresh (and, I think, exclusive) update. I’m told Labour has taken all four of its targets in Yorkshire’s Calderdale, which is an important one. A third of seats were up. It’s Labour-run, with just a small gain needed to take control. The parliamentary seat Calder Valley is a very marginal Tory/Labour seat.

Plus two gains so far in Runnymede, Philip Hammond’s seat, where a local source told me last week that the Tories are unpopular and Labour data has looked positive.

Everything’s coming up Millhouse!

11.08 I’m off to Westminster to appear on BBC News – back soon!

11.07 Labour’s revised Euro elections leaflet isn’t likely to calm the Brexit infighting…

10.49 Corbyn speaks to Labour activists in Trafford:

10.45 The debate continues…

10.42 The New Statesman‘s Patrick Maguire raises the prospect of conference motion in favour of Article 50 revocation. And LabourList contributor Luke Akehurst adds that the leadership won’t be able to keep difficult motions off the conference floor “as their own rule change relaxed the criteria for motions and made the priority ballot effectively redundant”.

10.36 As I’ve said already this morning, these results are just serving to further entrench Labour divides over Brexit.

10.35 Another pro-PV Labour MP reacts to Ian Lavery’s comments:

10.32 Results so far show swing from Labour to Conservatives in the North; the opposite in the Midlands and even more so in the South.

10.26 Corbyn being interviewed in Trafford: “We have won Trafford. We have swings to Labour in a number of boroughs and that gives us a basis on which we can win marginal seats… I’m looking for an election in which we can do that.”

On the loss of Labour heartlands, he said: “I’m very sorry we lost them. We’ll win them back.”

Why did Labour lose in those areas? “Some of them were local factors, and some of them were people disagreeing with both parties on attitudes towards the EU.”

If you’re expecting these local election results to change Labour’s Brexit policy, think again.

10.22 I can see some activists saying that Labour’s Brexit plan isn’t mobilising Labour Leavers, so it should be scrapped. But I think we can all acknowledge that Labour is seen as a Remain party by Leavers.

10.19 I would say the correct take recognises that Brexit chaos and ambiguity – basically impossible for Labour to resolve – is exacerbating the anti-politics sentiment particularly found in small towns.

Labour frontbencher Richard Burgon is on BBC News right now, acknowledging that there have been disappointing results but also noting swings to Labour in the South.

10.15 Lisa Nandy speaks! The MP for Wigan, where Labour has lost three seats but held on, says this is a small town problem that has been getting worse over many years. (She co-founded Centre for Towns.) Nandy highlights that losing Bolton but gaining Trafford is in keeping with the 2017 and 2018 trends of winning amongst graduates in cities and shedding the support of our core vote.

10.11 Corbynites are keen to point out that: a) these are early results; and b) polls for the Euro elections still show Labour won’t do badly later this month. (Just to note, I think the claim that there is historically low turnout is incorrect.)

10.03 Right on cue, Labour MP Stephen Doughty has reacted to Lavery’s comments with just the opposite analysis – as a ‘people’s vote’ campaigner, he says the results show Labour should push more strongly for another referendum and not shy away from being anti-Brexit. Labour’s internal row over Brexit rumbles on – plus ça change.

10.01 Sienna here – I’m back on the liveblog for about an hour, then I’ll be heading to Westminster for BBC News later this morning. Many thanks to James for covering.

It’s all a bit quiet at the moment on the results front – but Labour activists aren’t quiet. There are many unhappy reactions among the broadly Remain-supporting grassroots to comments such as those offered by party chair Ian Lavery, who says Labour needs to “get Brexit sorted” (meaning ‘implement it’).

09.55 Jeremy Corbyn is reportedly appearing in Sale, Trafford, soon, so we’ll be reporting on any comments he makes as and when he makes them.

09.45 The word “fudge” is increasingly being used, both in the People’s Vote press release and by other Labour MPs and activists, regarding the party’s Brexit stance – otherwise known as “constructive ambiguity”. As Sienna mentioned in her morning email, the strategy seems to have run out of road and both pro- and anti-Brexit camps in the party are digging in.

09.35 The People’s Vote campaign say the elections results show Labour voters want another referendum. In a press release, Houghton & Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson reflects on the results – particularly disappointing in her local council of Sunderland – suggesting that although the area is often characterised as a heavily-leave supporting area, the “majority of Labour voters now want a People’s Vote on Brexit”. She says Labour’s Brexit position has been seen as “hesitant and lacking in clarity” and has directly affected the results in these local elections.

09.24 Labour chair Ian Lavery, appearing on BBC News, says the “clear message is that the two parties need to get on and get Brexit sorted.” Voters have “voted with their feet, they’ve voted for change”. He says he shares voters’ frustration because both Labour and the Tories “agreed we would be leaving the EU, we would have Brexit…and that hasn’t happened.”  Voters are “frustrated, they’re angry, and we’ll take that on board.”

09.17 John Curtice, who I’m not sure has yet slept, has told Today that the Lib Dem gains do not seem to be motivated by Brexit. He says evidence of the party performing better in remain than leave areas is “lacking”.

09.00 Sienna has now sent the LabourList morning email, which should be landing in your inbox. If you’re not already a subscriber, make sure you subscribe here or on the right-hand side of this page for everything Labour, every weekday morning. You can read Sienna’s morning email here.

08.55 Oop – bit of an interpretation war going on over McDonnell’s tweet, which is now being seen as the most significant intervention in understanding Labour’s feelings on the results so far. Peston tweeted his thoughts, which were swiftly corrected by the shadow chancellor. We’ll have to wait for more detailed analysis from the leadership than 280-character quotes.

08.44 Tory chair Brandon Lewis has been on the Today programme striking a similar tone to John McDonnell (see 08:29): “there is a very clear message to both parties that we have to get on with getting Brexit done.”

08:35 For a somewhat unique view of the prolonged Brexit process, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has told Sky News she had expected Brexit to have been sorted before she went on maternity leave, last November. She’s now returned to…however you might describe the current situation…and has said she is going to spend her first day back at work “laying down red lines.”

08:29 John McDonnell has just tweeted a succinct response to the election results:

08.22 It looks like there’s a bit of a pause while overnight counts cease (there are only a few councils performing overnight counts left to declare) and morning counts begin. We’ll continue to report incoming results on this liveblog as they’re declared.

08:07 I’m glad I wasn’t playing a drinking game with “a plague on both your houses” as an answer for these elections, otherwise I would…not be sober right now. It’s all over Twitter and the TV. Can’t we be more imaginative?

08:05 Interesting from The Independent’s John Rentoul and relevant for those following the (mis)fortunes of Labour defectors Change UK, who suggests the big surge in Lib Dem support in these elections could spell trouble for the new group at the European elections in a few weeks.

07.58 Sky’s Adam Boulton reminds viewers that there are still “more than half the results” still to declare, so we haven’t seen the final picture yet. Discourse on Twitter suggests a general feeling of disappointment among Labour activists at the results as they stand. Maybe I’m an optimist or maybe I’ve had too much chocolate for a Friday morning, but I’m heeding Laura K’s words that the overall picture could still change, with the geography of councils results still to come traditionally favouring Labour.

07.40 #LibDemFightback is now trending on Twitter. Eye roll.

07.35 Sky News’ Tamara Cohen says “Lib Dem fightback”. Drink (coffee?).

07.25 Gwynne finishes his interview with the BBC by reaffirming the power of local issues in affecting the results still coming in. It is hard to respond definitively, since there are still hundreds of seats to declare, but he seems to largely agree with commentators’ views – “a plague on both your houses” is the phrase of choice to describe what we’ve seen overnight. Who knew Shakespeare would have such an impact on local election coverage.

07.20 In extremely local news, Labour have gained two seats on Tendring council – my parents’ home council – which has been reduced following a boundary review from 60 to 48 seats. Also extremely impressed by the quality of local journalism, with the Clacton Gazette running a liveblog of the results throughout the night, echoed across the country by other small publications.

07.16 Andrew Gwynne, the co-elections coordinator for these local elections, is currently on BBC Breakfast. He says although there have been “disappointing results”, there have also been “some progresses. I wouldn’t want people to have the impression it’s all been doom and gloom.” In particular, Gwynne highlights the gains on Medway council, where Labour now have the largest group of councillors for over 20 years. Labour NEC CLP rep Alice Perry has tweeted her congratulations for the excellent result.

07.04 North Wales Live has published images of spoilt ballot papers with the words “Get May Out” and “Deliver Brexit” written across the candidates’ names. These seem far clearer as messages go than the crude drawings I saw on ballot papers as a local council candidate last year.

06.59 The Local Government Information Unit has released a statement on the results as of 6am. The think tank says “we shouldn’t forget the salience of local issues”, suggesting Brexit isn’t the sole reason for losses suffered by the two main parties.

06.56 It’s official – Stoke-on-Trent, one of Labour’s target councils and the site of Labour’s campaign launch – remains in no overall control. Gareth Snell earlier blamed the party’s Brexit position for the results.

06.49 Lib Dem MP Ed Davey is refusing to be drawn on what tonight’s election results mean for the party’s leadership. As PoliticsHome’s Kevin Schofield has commented, Vince Cable was meant to be standing down – what might happen now?

06.45 Have to say, breakfast TV makes for some odd viewing. On one channel presenters are attempting to imitate the late Peter Mayhew’s Chewbacca noise and on another I’m being told never to kiss a dog on the mouth. Back to politics.

06.39 Sky News’ Lewis Goodall suggests the results reflect a traditional rejection of the main parties because of their handling of Brexit. The narrative being painted seems to be one of Leave-voting areas returning fewer Labour councillors than they did in 2015, though it is important to remember that a) local issues have definitely affected the bigger losses experienced by Labour and b) not all results have been declared yet so we could still see a change in fortunes for Labour, especially when taking the location of already-declared seats into account.

06.32 The initial shock (and potential threat) of a UKIP gain in Hartlepool seems to have amounted to very little. UKIP’s overall vote is down on their 2015 performance, losing 48 councillors across the country. This is, though, partly due to the fact the party only contested 16% of English seats so not necessarily indicative of how pro-Brexit parties may perform in the European elections later this month.

06.17 John Curtice once again reminding viewers that the Lib Dem gains are less significant when viewed in context – the 2015 results were their worst ever, so gains when the same seats are contested this time around will look disproportionately good.

06.13 The scoreboard as it stands – Lib Dems and independents up significantly, both main parties down.

06.06 Anyone hoping for an embarrassing moment for Theresa May will be disappointed by the news her local council has remained under Tory control. Damn.

06.02 It looks as though other liveblogs and commentators are heading to sleep before further results emerge later today – but not us! We’ll keep going, powered by chocolate, chewing gum and coffee. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.

05.57 Ashfield, in Gloria De Piero’s constituency, has seen its minority hold on the council drop by 20 seats to officially fall into independent hands. The Labour group underwent some significant changes last year, with resignations and a vote of no confidence removing the party’s hold on the council. It looks as though voters have followed their councillors to make independents the largest group.

05.53 Simon Fletcher on Sky News says of the results, “There is a gridlock in parliament which means people are very frustrated.” He also stresses the Tories are “objectively having a worse night.”

05.48 Laura Kuenssberg doing her own expectation management here: the word “YET” is key. With so many seats still left to declare, we could still see the overall picture change.

05.44 Labour have held Telford & Wrekin council, increasing their two-seat majority to win 36 seats in a surge for the party.

05.41 It’s all (quietly) kicking off on the BBC. Nia Griffith accuses Siân Berry and the Greens of taking unrealistic policy positions, something they can do because they’re “not in power” and don’t have to make difficult decisions.

05.33 Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine earlier baulked at Sophy Ridge’s suggestion that tonight’s gains are the result of a protest vote by querying the premise of the question. “What is a protest vote?”

05.24 Gareth Snell says Labour has had a “challenging night”. He says, in Stoke-on-Trent, “independents have been the beneficiary of an anti-politics vote”. He has seen frustration on the doorstep over the party’s Brexit stance and suggests the party needs to be performing better in Stoke “if we’re serious about forming the next government”.

05.20 Labour has lost Bolsover – Dennis Skinner’s territory – with the council going into no overall control after the party loses 14 seats.

05.11 Just before heading home, Butler was on Sky News saying: “It’s very, very unusual times…historically, Labour suffers when there’s a low turnout. We have to be honest – Parliament is a mess.”

05.06 Dawn Butler suggesting she survived the entirety of polling day without coffee. I’m still drinking coffee now and it’s 5am.

04.56 The debate on the BBC is currently focusing on Brexit as the cause of the main party losses, with Priti Patel branding Theresa May “part of the problem” and Green Siân Berry keen to stress their People’s Vote stance as a key reason for the gains made by them in areas like the Wirral.

04.45 Jeremy Corbyn’s former chief of staff Simon Fletcher has just said “Lib Dem revival” on Sky News. Close enough. Drink.

04.38 There are still 6,500 seats to declare, so we’re by no means near the end of these results. Several notable Lib Dem gains from the Tories including North Norfolk, where recent resignations and boundary changes mean change has been on the cards for a while.

04.23 Nia Griffith says she believes the public “has been rather turned off politics”. The shadow secretary of state for defence is also keen to stress the importance of local issues – rather than Brexit – affecting the results currently coming out, which is certainly the case with councils like Sunderland.

04.17 James Calmus here, taking over from Sienna as she heads to bed, just as the BBC replaces its expert panel, too. Expect a similar quality of analysis, obviously.

04.09 Smeeth says she is inclined to support the PM’s deal, especially now that there are assurances on workers’ rights. “Tonight there are consequences for us not moving forward with Brexit… and I won’t have a Labour council.”

04.07 Smeeth continues: “I don’t envy the leadership this decision at all. But we’re losing seats in our core labour heartlands and we’re not winning seats elsewhere… Tonight has to be a wake-up call.”

04.05 Ruth Smeeth from Leave-voting Stoke-on-Trent is on BBC News urging the Labour leadership to look at these results and undertake a “post-mortem”. She says: “My constituents just don’t believe that we’ll deliver Brexit… If you look at the spoilt ballot paper, it’s ‘we don’t trust you’.”

In Stoke-on-Trent, it’s Labour versus Conservatives and Independents. Currently NOC. The parliamentary seats, held by Smeeth and Gareth Snell, are very marginal. It wouldn’t take a huge swing for Labour to regain control of this council, but it looks like results have gone the other way.

04.01 In Remain-voting Trafford, some of the seats saw swings of more than 15% from the Tories to Labour according to Lewis Goodall. The composition is now: Lab 36, Con 20, Lib Dems 4, Green 3. A strong majority.

03.58 CLASS director and Labour parliamentary candidate Faiza Shaheen rightly pointing out on Sky News that Tory commentators have done a very good job of driving down expectations, to the extent that people were talking about the Conservatives losing 1,000 seats.

03.54 Another Labour target, Dudley, hasn’t changed much: the Tories have gained one seat from an Independent, which means the new council has an even number of Labour and Tory councillors.

After 2018, Dudley was Tory-led but in September a Labour minority administration took power.

03.47 Labour has officially won control of Trafford in Greater Manchester, which is great news. Six seats gained. It was a very important target last year, when it was snatched off the Tories. Run by Labour with Lib Dem support since 2018, we can now take full control. Massive congratulations to group leader Andy Western.

03.45 Luke Pollard MP is still absolutely buzzing in Plymouth and now conducting his own interviews:

03.43 I feel a bit sick because I’ve eaten too much chocolate in an effort to stay awake. Also, here’s an interesting tidbit from Labour:

03.35 Lib Dem Christine Jardine is accusing Labour of a failure to compromise. I don’t quite understand how people can say Labour isn’t compromising on Brexit and in the same breath say Labour is leaving too many Brexit options open.

03.30 The Tory leader of Bath and North East Somerset, about to be ex-leader, has been dropping some truth bombs on BBC News. Locals told him they “couldn’t trust” the Conservative Party anymore. All MPs need to just grow up and get a deal through, he said. Conclusion: “Life goes on.” Everyone is getting really tired now.

03.21 The Tories have lost Tandridge thanks to Lib Dem and Independent gains. With more southern councils like this one yet to declare, the Tory performance will look worse and worse.

03.18 We’re halfway there… through the overnight declarations.

03.07 Watching Luke Pollard celebrate Labour’s one-seat win in Plymouth on BBC News. Labour vote is up 7% there.

Just want to say, it’s really jarring when pundits describe canvassers as “staff” or “workers”.

03.04 The narrative that voters are punishing both main parties as they hold both responsible for the Brexit delay/chaos, which seems probable, will give credence to those who say Labour should get on with securing a cross-party deal (then move on to domestic issues) and those who argue Labour should not get into bed with the Tories, which will make them seem even more similar (and similarly incompetent/destructive).

02.55 Curtice is making a distinction between two analyses of Labour’s performance: one that says voters don’t want Labour to ‘look both ways’ on Brexit; the other that says voters want ‘a plague on both your houses’. He says the latter is more accurate because the drop in support is across the North rather than in Leave areas, suggesting an anti-politics not pro-Brexit sentiment.

Anyway, Labour’s performance by this time tomorrow will probably look better than it does now.

02.43 The Sunderland debate, revolving around whether the 10 councillor losses were caused by Labour’s pro-public vote stance – rages on, with local PV MP Bridget Phillipson defending her side.

02.37 Thank you, Dawn Butler, for being the person to finally point out that the Lib Dems are working from really crap results in 2015 and it’s no wonder their performance looks good in comparison.

02.35 To quickly recap on scattered bits of result news, Labour lost three seats in Liverpool, made one gain in Plymouth, held both Lewisham seats in by-elections with swings to Remain parties, and it’s been a bad night in Leeds with Labour losing Weetwood, Rothwell and Farnley, Wortley and Pudsey and making no gains.

02.29 Labour has lost the Middlesbrough mayoralty contest to Independent candidate (ex-Labour member) Andy Preston. The incumbent, Dave Budd, decided to stand down and the party had hoped new candidate councillor Mick Thompson would take over. But it was won by a slim margin last time in 2015, and the mayoralty was held by an Independent before. Disappointing but not overly shocking.

02.16 Curtice says Labour’s support is down five points in the North, on average, but up three points in the South. Somehow, holders of every single position in the party on Brexit will use this to justify their stance.

Dawn Butler has taken over from Barry Gardiner on BBC News. She’s likely to deliver more anti-Brexit messages.

Labour down about 50 seats at the moment.

02.05 Sir Graham Brady (the guy who announced Theresa May had survived the Tory no-confidence vote in her leadership) has told the BBC that it looks very likely Labour will take Trafford.

This would be excellent news. Trafford, which elects its councillors in thirds, was a really big Labour target last year. It used to be the only Tory-controlled council in Greater Manchester, but since 2018 it has been Labour-run with Lib Dem support. We know that with just two gains, Labour could take full control.

02.02 The Tories have lost control of Peterborough, hurrah! It’s now under NOC. Tories lost four seats and Labour gained three.

Of course, following a successful recall petition, there is an upcoming by-election with the date set for June 6th. Labour’s parliamentary candidate Lisa Forbes will be pleased with this result.

1.57 Margaret Beckett is on BBC News. She has described this as a “disappointing night” for Labour, though “not wholly unexpected”. The longest-serving female MP, who has campaigned for another referendum, is rejecting the idea Labour should become more pro-Brexit in response to the results.

01.55 A third of Stockport was up. It was under NOC, and has stayed that way. The Tories were defending six seats, Labour defending seven, Lib Dems defending five. It has been Labour-run (24 seats) with sizeable LD (21 seats) and Tory opposition (12 seats).

01.40 He’s right – let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Hardly any results have been announced really.

01.34 The consensus forming seems to be that these local election results show Labour’s ‘constructive ambiguity’ Brexit strategy has run out of road. Unfortunately, that’s where consensus ends, with both the Remain and anti-public vote flanks in the party claiming that Labour needs to clarify its position and end up firmly on their side of the argument.

01.26 The Tories have gained control of Walsall, which became a minority Tory administration when the mayor cast a deciding vote between the Conservative leader (with 30 seats after 2018) and the former Labour leader (with 26 seats, but coalition support from four other councillors). Labour has lost two seats.

01.20 These results are firing up the Brexit debate within the party. Barry Gardiner is sounding very sympathetic towards the Sunderland council leader, who blames Labour’s perceived anti-Brexit position. (This is almost certainly an issue in other Leave areas, but a bit odd that the child abuse scandal in Sunderland isn’t being mentioned.) Meanwhile, Labour Remain MPs are calling for a clearer line on another referendum.

01.15 Not good news: Labour has lost control of Bolton. It was vulnerable, only narrowly Labour-run, and Labour lost four net seats in the 2018 election. So this isn’t unexpected, but it’s worrying. 

Bolton West is a marginal seat where the Tory incumbent only has a majority of 936 votes. It is, of course, a Leave area.

01.10 Here’s where are so far – Lib Dems and Greens up, both main parties down.

01.06 News from Wokingham, where apparently Labour has gained three seats from the Tories.

Status quo in Colchester, where Labour won’t lose or gain anything and its coalition with the Lib Dems should hold.

01.04 I hear it looks like Labour has gained Peverell from the Tories in Plymouth (Luke Pollard’s marginal seat). Labour needs to hold on to this council, currently Labour-controlled but vulnerable.

00.56 It’s been confirmed that the Tories hold Swindon, a Labour target. Disappointing.

But I’m told previously Tory-run Basildon is now NOC, which is great news for Labour. I was told by a local activist last week that it was was expected the Tories would retain their majority. Labour hoping that that the previous Labour/Independent alliance will be put in place again.

00.52 Labour is pointing to local factors that account for the Green surge in the Wirral, where there has been a big row over building on the green belt. Labour has lost its majority.

00.48 BUT! Gardiner is saying Hartlepool is not a Labour loss – it was already NOC as Labour councillors went Independent. Sources in the party are backing him up.

00.45 The first control change of the night. Not good. Labour has lost control of Hartlepool, which was Labour-controlled but vulnerable with a small majority. Labour has lost five seats, and they’ve gone to four Independents and one UKIP.

00.44 As I said, Barry G is always worth a watch. He’s doing the dull shift on local elections night, but has managed to irritate Labour-supporting (just about) Remainers by stating that Labour is ‘bailing out’ the government. Wes Streeting is the first MP to tweet a complaint. More Brexit rowing…

00.37 Lewis Baston reports from Harlow, Essex:

00.35 On BBC News, Barry Gardiner is arguing with James Cleverly about Brexit, saying: “We’re trying to bail you guys out.”

00.25 Over analysed, and yet nobody on BBC News is pointing out the very serious issues and scandals of the local council, which we can assume is heavily affecting the Labour vote.

00.21 As I said earlier, with two target parliamentary seats, Swindon is important… and proving tough.

00.17 John Curtice update on BBC News outlines what we expected to happen – not great for either Tory or Labour so far, good for Greens and Lib Dems.

00.15 No regular local elections in London, but there was a by-election in Lewisham. Labour have held Whitefoot ward, where Janet Daby was a councillor before being elected as Lewisham East MP last year:

00.08 “Turnout seems to be up all over Plymouth,” I’m told. Let’s hope that is right. The council is Labour-controlled but vulnerable. Local activists say Labour has been working hard to get the vote out, and are hopeful that Tories will stay at home.

00.04 The BBC’s Huw Edwards is happily helping out James Cleverly to drive down expectations for the Tories. He is basically saying that if the Conservatives lose 500 seats rather than 1,000, that’d be alright. But the 1,000 estimate was ridiculous!

00.02 John Curtice: “Turnout is so far, on average, down very slightly on 2016 and 2018, suggesting that overall at least, the level will prove to be similar to the norm for local elections.”

00.00 Labour holds Wigan, in Lisa Nandy’s patch:

23.56 Owen Jones is helping to correct the outrageous level of Tory expectation management we’ve seen:

And, on BBC News, Jo Swinson has just said “Lib Dem fightback”. Drink.

23.52 Labour has lost a seat to the Tories in Swindon, which is a key target. Keir Starmer paid a visit recently and Unite’s #SaveHondaSwindon campaign has been strong. The Tories have held the council for 15 years but it’s on a knife-edge. A third of seats are up: if Tories lose two, they lose control. But it’s looking tough, and Brexit seems to be the issue.

Swindon covers two key marginal constituencies, bellwethers North Swindon and South Swindon. They have both been Tory-held since 2010. Labour needs to win there at the next election.

23.48 Durham by-election result not good for Labour, as Lib Dem have gained in Shildon & Dene Valley:

23.43 As predicted, Lib Dems are set to make significant gains:

23.40 Bazza G is on BBC News. Reliably entertaining, always worth a watch.

Update from Leeds: Labour worried about the very bad rain from 5pm to 9pm. “Tory postal vote appears to have held up.”

23.38 Eesh, not sounding good in Dudley. Labour local: “I’m certain we’ll lose the council here in Dudley… True knife-edge and turn out seems low.” Dudley, which now has an Independent MP after Ian Austin quit Labour, is currently under NOC. After 2018, Dudley was Tory-led but in September the Tory leader was removed and a Labour minority administration took power. Unfortunately, Dudley could change control again.

23.33 Back to Basildon: Labour holds Vange, which local activists were worried about. There were just 147 votes in it – tight but better than the 26 margin seen at the by-election in March, I’m told.

23.30 It’s not so great news for Labour in Sunderland – but don’t worry, that is expected. Local election results there aren’t usually indicative of parliamentary elections, with Tories and Lib Dems picking up seats in safe Labour wards. The Labour-run council has many issues and scandals. Don’t take this one as reflective of the national picture.

23.26 I’m told Labour has also held St Martins in Basildon and gained Laindon Park from the Tories. Basildon, where a third of seats are up, is currently Tory-run, and Labour gains are a very good sign.

Local activist says Laindon Park was “a seat the Tories needed to win” and describes no overall control (NOC) as “likely now”. Exciting.

Labour also hold Fryerns in Basildon.


23.15 Hearing low turnout from nearly everyone – except a Labour source in Basildon (Essex), who says turnout is up in some wards and they’ve held Lee Chapel North.

23.05 Sky News is showing spoilt ballot papers in Bury, which show that people have written ‘Brexit’ and anti-Theresa May messages instead of ticking any box. This is exactly what the Tories fear.

23.03 To go back to what I was saying about expectation management earlier, there has been concern about the prediction that the Tories would lose 1,000 seats today. Labour figures want it highlighted that this is based on a national Labour poll lead of eight points, which isn’t quite right – it’s more around three points on average.

There are lots of factors working against Labour: UKIP not on many ballot papers and no Brexit Party cutting into the Tory vote; low turnout, which usually disproportionately hurts Labour; elections are being held in predominately rural areas, where we typically struggle.

It can be difficult to eyeball turnout, but for what it’s worth, Labour activists are telling me that it has been particularly low today. That is no surprise.

22.54 Just noticed this Liverpool Echo story: “Just moments after polls across Liverpool have closed in the local elections, a city councillor has launched a stunning move to try and remove Mayor Joe Anderson’s position.” Drama at that count tonight!

22.50 To recap. Basically, Novara’s Bastani told viewers not to buy the media script and opted to unmanage expectations rather than explain why the results might not look brilliant for Labour.

22.46 Right, hold on, just taking a two-minute-14-second break to watch a video Aaron Bastani has tweeted of his take on the local elections.

22.43 For those of you who were hurriedly trying to find a liveblog app that didn’t display huge ads (yep, I failed to find one) and missed this tweet an hour ago, it seems that Boris Johnson – MP for the London constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip – tweeted that he had voted in the local elections today. Elections that notably aren’t being held in London…

Labour’s candidate Ali Milani, who will challenge Johnson at the next election, has picked up on the slip-up.

22.36 Here’s a local elections story from HuffPost. Remember how Tory-controlled Northamptonshire County Council went bust, banned spending, sold assets and made horrendous cuts to services? Well, it hasn’t held district and borough council elections today. As the Guardian‘s Patrick Butler reported: “How very convenient, a local Labour activist remarked to me recently.”

22.30 Labour’s campaign has had one overarching message: austerity isn’t over. The first party political broadcast made that clear, the second focussed on police cuts and rising crime and the third presented the benefits of community investment versus austerity.

Labour says it’s been hard to get national attention for those themes amid the Brexit chaos. Although Labour’s preferred issues have met good reception on the ground, local campaigners have throughout reported a lot of apathy.

It also seems journalists have set a particularly high bar for what makes news now, with so much going on every day, and local elections that aren’t being held in London just haven’t cut it. It’s not surprising that we’ve head from many canvassers that more voters than usual simply didn’t know it was polling day.

22.20 Here’s a recap of what we’re dealing with here. Out of 343 councils in England, 248 have held elections today. That includes almost all non-London metropolitan areas, and nearly all the rural and small town district councils. 134 are Tory-controlled, 67 Labour-controlled, seven Lib Dem-controlled and 35 are under no overall control (NOC).

22.17 Turnout is what everyone is talking about tonight. Labour is keen to point out that the last time these elections were fought was on the day of the 2015 general election – when turnout was much higher than it will be this year. As I said in the morning email, that won’t led itself well to like-for-like comparisons. A lower turnout nearly always disproportionately hits the Labour vote.

But at the same time, local Labour activists are relying on traditional Tory voters – unhappy with Theresa May and the delays to Brexit – staying home today, which could allow areas with strong Labour get-out-the-vote operations to make gains.

22.10 From my vast experience of covering local elections (i.e. last year), I’ve learnt that the Local Government Information Unit is really, really useful. LGiU chief executive Jonathan Carr-West has just commented:

“For the Conservatives anything short of disaster will feel like a reasonable result. They’re predicted to lose hundreds of seats but the consolation could be that the profile of these elections means they shouldn’t lose control of too many councils. Labour will hope to consolidate their hold on the Northern Metropolitan councils and take full control of places like Calderdale and Trafford. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats should pick up anti Brexit votes and win seats but start from too far back to take over many councils though they may have their eyes on Stockport.”

That sums up the situation pretty well. Unlike last year, when expectations rose to sky-high levels, Labour has been busy managing them in the run up to polling day today. The Tories have been outdoing us on the lowering expectation front, however, and James Cleverly is on Sky News now doing just that.

22.05 Results are expected to start coming in at midnight, so not much action for the next couple of hours. But if you’ve got any tips or tidbits from the doorstep, slide into my DMs to share them and I can publish them here. Been pounding the pavements all day? Let me know! Share your number of steps.

22.00 Hello, it’s LabourList editor Sienna Rodgers here. Welcome to our local elections 2019 liveblog. Polls have just closed across England and Northern Ireland, but there are no exit polls tonight. All the more reason to stay tuned (keep refreshing the page) as I try my best to keep up with the results coming in.

More from LabourList