Local elections

The general election isn’t the only poll taking place on 7 May

Along with contests to choose the 650 MPs for the next UK parliament, on 7 May 2015 local elections are also being held across most of England. A handful of mayoral elections will be decided as well.

The seats up for grabs in the local elections were last contested in 2011. They are exclusively within England; no local elections are scheduled for 7 May in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, though there’s always a chance a few local by-elections may fall on this date.

Voting will take place for seats on all 36 English metropolitan councils, 193 of the 200 district councils, and all of the 49 unitary authorities. There will no be contests in the 32 London boroughs or England’s 33 county councils.

It’s a sizeable chunk of local government that will be up for election, but because the contests are on the same day as the general election, it’s inevitable the results will be largely overlooked. This was the case in 2010, when Labour’s defeat at the general election and the subsequent coalition negotiations almost blanked out coverage of the party’s decent performance in the local elections.

The mix of metropolitan and district contests in 2015 ought to give both Labour and the Conservatives a chance to notch up some victories, as happened in 2011. Conversely the Liberal Democrats had one of their worst local elections ever in 2011, suffering a net loss of 748 councillors. They won’t do as badly this time, but only because they have fewer seats left to lose. Ukip will hope to gain toeholds in a few places, though I expect their success to be limited to district councils rather than the metropolitan boroughs.

Five mayoral elections are also due to take place on 7 May. They will be in:

  • Bedford (currently held by the Liberal Democrats)
  • Leicester (Labour)
  • Mansfield (Independent)
  • Middlesbrough (Independent)
  • Torbay (Conservative)

Bedford will be worth watching to see if Dave Hodgson clings on and defies a possible nationwide collapse for the Lib Dems.

Some of the contests that were scheduled for 7 May have been put back a year to avoid clashing with the general election. These are for:

  • the Scottish parliament
  • the national assembly of Wales
  • the Northern Ireland assembly
  • local councils in Northern Ireland

The people elected to these institutions in 2011 are getting to enjoy an extra year in office and will face the voters in 2016 rather than 2015.

However a further rescheduling will need to take place to avoid a second clash occurring in 2020, when the next but one general election is due to take place.

Somehow the four-year voting cycles of the devolved administrations need to be reconciled with the five-year cycle for the Westminster parliament. Reducing the fixed term at Westminster from five to four years would be one solution, meaning the next general election after 2015 would be in 2019. Otherwise, we’re just going to keep on getting clashes, followed by more postponements and longer electoral cycles: none of which is good for democracy.

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