In a huge set of local elections, it is results in Scotland that could have the most significant impact. A majority for the SNP will see a second independence referendum heave into view, despite the UK government’s insistence that it will not offer one. The elections for Holyrood will also demonstrate whether Alex Slamond and his Alba party have any significant support. The stakes are high. Labour has been putting great efforts into a recovery in Scotland, so its performance will also be worth watching.
According to several polls, Labour could be facing its worst set of results in Senedd elections since devolution in 1999, but there has been significant volatility in the recent polling. Labour still seems odds-on to be the biggest party, but the Conservatives are looking to make gains. Meanwhile, nationalist Plaid Cymru is making independence a big part of its pitch – a change from past elections. These elections for the Senedd are also the first in which 16- and 17-year-olds can vote.
If Labour could have picked a seat in which it didn’t want a byelection, Hartlepool may well have been it. Labour won in 2019, but benefited from a split between the Brexit party and the Tories. A Tory win would see Boris Johnson claim he is still making inroads in Labour heartlands. If Labour holds on, it would help Starmer move on from some early criticism. The town is unpredictable, having previously elected a monkey mascot as its mayor.
The battle for the capital’s mayoralty has been widely called incredibly predictable and crushingly uninspiring. Labour’s incumbent, Sadiq Khan, has a double-digit lead over Tory rival Shaun Bailey. Some senior Tories had wanted a new candidate but Bailey survived. Interest in the contest has turned to whether Count Binface, powered by his plan to limit the cost of croissants to a pound, can beat anti-lockdown activist Laurence Fox. Both are currently polling at 1%.
When Conservative Ben Houchen became the first Tees Valley mayor in 2017, it was an early sign that the Tories could make inroads into traditionally Labour areas. Labour’s fightback has been hampered after its candidate, Jessie Joe Jacobs, contracted Covid and had to self-isolate late in the campaign. In 2019, the Tories performed well in several constituencies that elect the mayor, and Labour needs a strong showing to demonstrate a fight back.
Andy Street, John Lewis boss-turned Tory West Midlands mayor, has used his position to back the region’s Commonwealth Games bid and keep the HS2 project on track. Up against him is former Labour minister Liam Byrne, whose confident predictions of victory have been undercut by polling suggesting a lead for Street. While Byrne is a high-profile candidate, will voters remember his ill-judged note to the incoming coalition government that there was “no money”?
A big Tory night would see the party win the first mayoral election in West Yorkshire. While Labour controls the local councils, the Conservatives made inroads at the last general election, winning in places such as Wakefield, Keighley and Dewsbury. Labour MP Tracy Brabin, who is running for the post, has won a starry endorsement from Sir Patrick Stewart, who posted a message of support from his home in Los Angeles. But does he have cut-through in Kirklees?
Is there any way back for the Lib Dems? If there is, it will have to start with rebuilding former local government strongholds such as the south-west. Former MP Andrew George is among those trying to win a council seat in Cornwall. Having bet the farm at the 2019 election on being anti-Brexit, the party is now trying to go back to more local issues. A major revival looks unlikely.
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