Local elections

Labour’s top 20 targets: how did it do?

Not very well.

Here’s the chart I compiled of the 20 councils it should have been easiest for Labour to win on Thursday:

Labour's top 20 targetsAnd here’s how the party actually did:

Labour top 20 targets - resultsThe asterisked councils are those Labour had previously run as a minority administration. The negative figures are the number of seats Labour ended up short of a majority.

It’s self-evident the party did poorly. I’m staggered it failed to take overall control of Walsall, Calderdale and Kirklees: three metropolitan boroughs in what would traditionally be called natural Labour territory. The failure to win a majority in West Lancashire and Worcester ought to be deeply worrying for the party, while missing out on Swindon and Trafford – two flagship Tory councils – is a real setback.

Had Labour not done as well as it did in London, this chart would look even worse for them. It was only thanks to the remarkable success the party enjoyed across the capital that over a third of these top 20 targets were hit. Strip out London and you’re left with just three gains: Bradford, Crawley and Cambridge.

Labour has drawn attention rightly to its performance overall on Thursday, and it’s worth saying that a net gain of over 300 councillors is above what many commentators and indeed spokespeople were anticipating (though some of that was due to a bit of textbook expectation management). I’d seen figures as low as 150 quoted, but also that the party would be disappointed with anything less than 250.

Well, they’ve done better than that. And it may be that those bumper results in London are a good omen for winning some of the capital’s Tory marginals at the general election.

But prospective gains in London now need to be offset by potential misses in equally marginal seats elsewhere in the country – Dewsbury in the borough of Kirklees, for example (Tory majority: 1,526) and Worcester (Tory majority: 2,982).

Defeats for the Tories and Lib Dems in this week’s elections were expected, and that’s why they aren’t making the headlines. Defeats of this type for Labour have come as a surprise, and that’s why they are attracting the media’s attention.

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