Everything you need to know about the May local elections and why they matter

LONDON — Britain will go to the polls for the snap general election in around six weeks’ time but next week millions will vote in a number of very important local and mayoral elections.

2,370 seats across 24 English councils will be up for grabs on Thursday, May 4, plus councils across Scotland and Wales. Mayoral elections will also take place in six regions of England.

The likelihood is you’re probably a bit sick of voting and elections by now. It won’t even have been be a year since the exhausting EU referendum by the time the country will vote again to elect its government in the June 8 general election.

But next week’s local and mayoral elections ought to arouse your interest.

Why should I care about these elections?

Firstly, they are taking place in unusual circumstances. This batch of local-level elections typically take 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 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’ 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. Ordinarily it’s a means for voters to express their dissatisfaction with the current regime. An example is in 2012 when the David Cameron-led Conservatives lost 405 councillors.

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 at local level, too, as voters ticks are inclined to tick the same box.

Clearly, due to the aforementioned issue of timing, these patterns cannot be applied to next week’s elections.

However, what we know is that the Tories are crushing Labour in opinion polls. The most recent, published by TNS, gave the Conservatives a whopping 22% lead over Labour. All other recent polls have painted a similar picture.

If the polls are indeed accurate, then Theresa May’s governing Conservative party are set for an unusually good night on May 4, while Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition 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

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 next week.

The Centre For Cities estimates Labour had a 9.4% lead over the Tories in the West Midlands at the 2015 general election — but polls show Conservative hopeful Andy Street has a good chance of inflicting a major blow to Labour by winning the contest.

At around 13%, Labour’s estimated lead over the Tories in the Tees Valley is also within the Tory-Labour polling gulf but the run-off voting system used here means it will be harder for the Conservatives to win this particular contest.

Local elections

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 and the Lib Dems 85. UKIP is also predicted to be a big loser on the night, with around 105 net losses.

These elections could very well be a dress rehearsal for the general election. If the above projection is accurate, then Labour would have to pull off a turn-around of miraculous proportions to avoid a defeat on June 8.

Seats to look out for in particular are Derbyshire, which is the only English county currently held by Labour; Somerset, where a sufficient swing to the Lib Dems could see the anti-Brexit party win the seat; and Norfolk, where the Tories could capitalise on the decline of UKIP and win the seat.

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