Poll Position

Paula Keaveney

When I worked for the BBC in Lancashire I remember one local election night when control of the council rested on the result of just one ward in Skelmersdale.  It was an anxious wait for the party leaders and showed how knife-edge some elections can be.

We could see a lot more of the knife-edge after today’s vote – the largest electoral contest since the 2019 general election. Delays to last year’s scheduled elections means that we now have election for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Senedd, London Assembly, Mayoral, Police and Crime Commissioner, local council elections, and a Westminster by-election in Hartlepool.

The rapids of today –  polling day –  will be followed by a gentler stream however, as Covid-19 precautions means counts will take longer than usual. We all recall the days late night vamping on CNN as they counted the Presidential election votes in the USA last autumn.  So there will be no deluge of results for us to pore over tomorrow morning.

Despite this, most, if not all parties will be able to point to success somewhere.  This means spinners will be busy trying to frame their party’s success as the most meaningful.

So, where should we look, and what might these results mean?

In Hartlepool Labour is defending but polls show a significant Tory challenge.  While we might associate the town with Labour – Peter Mandelson having been one of its MPs – it is not rock solid. The Borough Council has seen losses to independents and others in recent years.  If the Tories win here it will be seen – by them at least – as vindication of their Covid-19 strategy and a welcome distraction from ‘apartment-gate’.

Scotland will be framed as a test of support for, or opposition to, independence. Can Alex Salmond’s new Alba party make a difference?

In the Welsh Senedd, the Labour administration retained control after the last election by forming a coalition with the lone Liberal Democrat.  The numbers in Wales are very tight and made more unpredictable with 16- and 17-year olds being able to vote for the first time. Labour losses would certainly open the door to different Coalition possibilities. If Labour were to be shut out of an arising coalition, this would be the first time since devolution that they were not in control of the Senedd.

When we come to Mayors, Sadiq Khan looks so far ahead in London that it must be a case of “nothing to see here”.  Elsewhere things become more interesting.  In the West Midlands, Conservative Andy Street is defending a narrow win last time. The Conservatives will be keen to hang on, but will face a tough challenge from Labour MP, Liam Byrne. 

And in Liverpool we will be able to see just how much a scandal affects an election.  Back in December the Labour Elected Mayor was arrested and, with others, was accused of bribery and witness intimidation. Since then there has been a damning report into the Council, with indications of corrupt practice.  Labour’s Mayoral Candidate this time is necessarily new, but long serving Councillors are also seeking re-election.  The opposition parties have gone into this contest with gusto. An independent candidate for the top job has also entered the list – and this might be the only chance for a Lib Dem victory with their candidate, veteran councillor Richard Kemp. 

And that Lancashire knife edge?  To win a majority, a party needs 43 seats.  The Conservatives currently hold 44, and so Lancashire could be worth watching again.

Let’s see what today, and the following day(s), bring.

Paula Keaveney is Programme Leader for Politics at Edge Hill University.

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