- Britain goes to the polls in last set of major elections before the general election.
- Over 2,000 seats are up for grabs in local councils.
- A number of mayoral elections are taking place for the first time.
- Labour set to make big losses as Conservatives and Lib Dems make gains.
LONDON — Millions of British people will go to the polls on Thursday to vote in local and mayoral elections, which will be last major electoral test of the main political parties ahead of the upcoming general election.
A total of 4,851 council seats will be contested across England, Wales and Scotland on Thursday, May 4, includes 2,370 seats across 24 English councils. Mayoral elections will take place in six regions of England, too.
The likelihood is you’re probably a bit sick of voting and elections by now. It won’t even have been a year since the exhausting EU referendum by the time the country votes again in the June 8 general election.
However, if you want a clue to as to how the general election will go down, then this week’s local and mayoral elections are well worth keeping an eye on. Let us explain why.
Why should I care about these elections?
They are taking place in unusual circumstances. This batch of local-level elections typically takes place either around mid-way through a sitting government’s term or on the same day as a general election.
In this case, we are entering a whole new electoral territory, as they will be taking place just over a month before the general election, and slap-bang in the middle of the parties’ general election campaigns.
Why does this matter?
When local elections take place midway through a government’s term the governing party is almost always given a boot to the stomach by voters and loses a lot of seats. This is because mid-term local elections are a chance for voters to express their dissatisfaction with the current regime.
For example, in 2012 David Cameron lost 405 councillors two years after being elected prime minister.
On the other hand, when local and mayoral elections take place on the same day as general elections, the newly-elected party of government will often perform well locally, too, as voters are usually inclined to tick the same box.
Clearly, due to the aforementioned issue of timing, these historical trends cannot be applied to Thursday’s elections.
However, what we do know is that the Tories are crushing Labour in the opinion polls.
The most recent, published by ICM, gave the Conservatives a whopping 19% lead over Labour. As of Friday, Theresa May’s Conservatives had an average lead of 19.3% over Labour in the polls, according to Britain Elects.
If the polls are accurate, then the Conservatives are set for an unusually good night on Thursday, while Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party will lose hundreds of seats across the country, just a month before the general election.
So what seats should we be looking out for?
Mayoral elections are taking place in six regions: Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, West of England, and the West Midlands.
The main one to look out for here is the West Midlands, comprising of the cities of Birmingham and Coventry, which will be selecting its first ever metro mayor on Thursday.
The Centre For Cities estimates Labour had a 9.4% lead over the Tories in the West Midlands region at the 2015 general election — but polls suggest Conservative hopeful Andy Street has a realistic chance of winning here and inflicting a major blow to Corbyn as a result. Street is up against Labour’s Siôn Simon.
Labour’s estimated 2015 lead of 13% over the Tories in the Tees Valley is also within the national polling gulf.
However, the run-off voting system used in this region means it will be harder for the Conservatives to win this particular contest.
These elections be a clear barometer for how Britain’s parties are performing just weeks before the general election.
Labour is predicted to have an abysmal night. The party faces losing at least 75 councils seats in England, over 100 in Wales, and could lose all its councils in Scotland, according to academics Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher.
The same forecast expects the Tories to make 115 net gains, which would be a great result for prime minister May.
We will also learn a great deal about the health of UKIP and the Liberal Democrats heading into the general election.
One in four voters backed UKIP in the 2013 local elections but polls suggest the Paul Nuttall-party is steadily in decline and could suffer around 105 net losses on Thursday. The Lib Dems, on the other hand, could make up 90 net gains. Tim Farron’s party has reaped the rewards since becoming the country’s leading anti-Brexit party, including a stunning victory in December’s by-election in Richmond Park, where the Tory to Lib Dem swing was 21.73%.
With all of this in mind, these local elections could be a dress rehearsal for the general election. If the above projection is accurate, then Labour would have to pull off a miraculous turn-around to avoid a defeat on June 8.
Seats to look out for in particular are:
DERBYSHIRE — the only English county currently held by Labour.
SOMERSET — a sufficient swing to the Lib Dems could see the anti-Brexit party win the seat.
NORFOLK — the Tories could capitalise on the decline of UKIP and win the seat.
What else do I need to know?
Voting will take place from 07:00 to 22:00 (BST) on Thursday.
Some English and Welsh councils will begin counting as soon as polls close on Thursday night while others will begin on Friday morning. Results will be announced throughout the day on Friday.
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