Relief for May as Tories sweep up UKIP votes

Divided: In London, a 1.5% swing from Tories to Labour. Outside, a 1% swing to the Tories. © Getty

What should we take away from last night’s local election results? Amid scandals and division, the Conservative vote held firm against Labour. And Britain may have seen the death of UKIP.

The Conservative Party remains divided and unsure about its plans for Brexit. It is still emerging from the Windrush immigration scandal and the resignation of home secretary Amber Rudd.

So Tories could have been forgiven for dreading last night’s local elections, where voters in 150 councils in England elected over 4,000 councillors to decide how their rubbish is collected and how much council tax they pay.

This was the first big test for political parties since last year’s general election.

And it did not turn out as expected. The Tories made gains from Labour, especially in the Midlands and the North. They won control of Nuneaton and Basildon while holding off a determined Labour effort in Swindon. The areas where the Tories did best tended to have voted heavily for Brexit. Many are also vital swing seats in general elections.

These seats were last up for grabs in 2014, when UKIP were at their peak. Now they have collapsed, losing almost every single seat. This meant that a huge number of UKIP voters were available - and the Tories gobbled them up.

There was, however, some good news for Labour in urban areas. They ended Tory control of Trafford in Greater Manchester, moving it to “no overall control”. In London too, Corbyn’s party made gains, but failed in their bids to win control of Wandsworth and Barnet.

The results emphasise Britain’s great new divide: young, diverse, urban areas swing towards Labour; older, whiter towns and the countryside are becoming steadily more Conservative.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell called the night “really mixed” for Labour, while culture minister Margot James said voters had “resoundingly rejected” Jeremy Corbyn’s politics.

Mid-term elections like these tend to favour the opposition. Labour were bullish about their chances. Its MPs have often referred to the party as a “government in waiting” as the Tories seem to flounder.

But these results put that all into doubt. How much attention should we pay to them?

Local heroes

A lot, say some. The results put the lie to the idea that the country is simply waiting for full-blown Corbyn-style socialism. Last night shows that, despite what the papers say, voters still generally support Theresa May and believe in her vision for Brexit. Labour, meanwhile, need to seriously rethink how it tries to appeal to middle England.

Not much, reply others. It is easy to concoct grand narratives, but local politics is very separate from national politics. Labour had a disastrous round of local elections very shortly before their good general election result. Tories should not be too cocky: they remain deeply unpopular with young people, and have almost insurmountable challenges ahead.

You Decide

  1. Have we passed “peak Corbyn”?
  2. Is local politics more important than national politics?


  1. Make a political prediction for the next year of British politics. Put it in an envelope, and open it after a year to see if you were right.
  2. Work in pairs. Create a campaign poster for a local position which you would like to hold. How will you inspire people to vote for you?

Some People Say...

“All politics is local.”

Tip O’Neill

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Generally speaking, it was a better night for the Tories than for Labour. They either made gains or retained control in many council areas in provincial England. Labour, who were tipped to have an excellent night, did well in cities, but failed to win control of their biggest targets. It was a reasonable night for the Liberal Democrats, who gained control of Richmond in south-west London from the Tories. It was a terrible night to UKIP, who lost almost all of their seats, mostly to the Conservatives.
What do we not know?
How much it all matters. Local elections often follow national trends, but every council area has its own peculiarities and specifics. It is simply very hard to tell just how much issues like Brexit really mattered in elections like this.

Word Watch

Windrush immigration scandal
In the last weeks a scandal has emerged over the treatment of immigrants from the Caribbean, known as the “Windrush generation”, who arrived in the UK after the Second World War to address labour shortages. Several immigrants were wrongly deported, with Theresa May’s policies from when she was home secretary receiving severe criticism.
Swing seats
A constituency held with a small majority that is often crucial to whether a party wins or loses a general election.
Polling has shown that the UKIP vote split more than 2:1 in favour of the Conservatives.
Having lost Trafford, the Tories do not hold control of a single urban area in the north.
The North London borough has the highest proportion of Jews of any council area in Britain. It is likely that Labour’s failure to win Barnet was partly down to allegations of anti-semitism in the Labour Party.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said “there can’t be any no-go areas for Labour” in the capital.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.