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Why The 2021 Local Elections Weren’t A Total Catastrophe For Labour

Andy Burnham won a landslide victory to in the Manchester mayoral election (Alamy)

3 min read

The Labour Party is facing a difficult set of results in the English local elections, which saw it lose votes in some of its traditional heartlands. But, it’s not all bad news for Keir Starmer.

There’s no denying that this week’s local elections were a big success for Boris Johnson and the Conservatives. By the end of Saturday, they had gained 12 councils and an extra 239 councillors across England, as well retaining mayors in Tees Valley and the West Midlands.

Labour, meanwhile, lost control of 8 councils, the majority of which were concentrated across the North East and encompassed many of the “Red Wall” seats lost in the 2019 General Election.

One of these notable scalps was Durham County Council, where Labour lost a majority it had held for almost a century after it lost 21 councillors, leaving it 11 short of an overall majority.

By far the biggest Labour loss of the night, though, was Hartlepool. The coastal constituency had been held by Labour since its formation, and the Tory’s victory there was a rare example of a governing party gaining a seat at a by-election.

But, beyond these top-line travesties for Labour, they have still had some notable successes, particularly in England’s cities.

The party has successfully held onto all of its existing metro and city mayoralties, winning 10 of the 12 declared races as of Saturday evening including Bristol, Doncaster, Liverpool, North Tyneside and Salford. Results for the West Yorkshire Region mayor are yet to be announced, but it is expected to go to Labour. 

Labour even managed to gain two mayoralties from the Conservatives — Nik Johnson in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and Dan Norris in the West of England. 

Other winners include Sadiq Khan, who secured 55.2% of the votes in London, and Andy Burnham, who won a landslide victory with 67.3% of the votes in Greater Manchester.

In fact, Burnham’s resounding victory was reflected across his patch. Of the 36 Metropolitan authorities in England, there were only six where Labour did not concede a single seat, four of which were in Greater Manchester. 

There were also only two authorities where the Tories lost councillors overall, both of which were in Burnham’s backyard.

While the Conservatives did to hang on to the West Midlands mayoralty, Andy Street didn't manage the sort of landslide the party had hoped for, showing it's still all to play for in the region in a General Election. 

Labour also made gains across the South East, where the Tories typically do well. They lost control of Cambridgeshire County Council, losing six seats while Labour gained two, and failed to take control of Peterborough City Council, which remains in no overall control. 

Boris Johnson’s party also lost two seats on the county council in Kent, three in East Sussex, four in West Sussex and ten in Surrey. 

Elsewhere, the Conservatives lost control of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, and saw their majority slashed on East Sussex County Council as Labour took five seats.

The Labour Party also did well in the elections for the devolved administrations. Welsh Labour finished the election with 30 seats in the Senedd, leaving it just one short of an outright majority. 

It can still form a minority government, however, and is expected to strike vote deals with the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru to pass votes in the future. 

In Scotland, the party is down two seats overall in Holyrood compared to the 2016 election. But, despite losing its East Lothian seat, the party’s victory in Dumbarton may have scuppered the SNP’s chance of a Holyrood majority.

Labour saw their vote share increase by six points in the constituency, with almost all the votes taken from the governing SNP.

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