What to look out for in May’s local elections

Polling station sign Image copyright Getty Images

On Thursday 2 May, voters will head to polling stations across England for local elections.

There are 8,425 seats up for grabs in a total of 248 councils, including metropolitan, district and unitary authorities.

What happened last time?

In many cases, these seats were last contested in 2015, on the same day as that year’s general election, in which the Conservatives won a majority in Parliament. A lot has changed since then, of course.

The Conservatives are defending the largest number of seats, with 4,906 Tory councillors up for re-election, compared with 2,113 for Labour.

The Liberal Democrats have 647 seats to defend, UKIP 176 and the Green Party 71. There are also 512 seats held by independents being fought.

Which are the councils to watch?

Image copyright Press Association
Image caption 30 unitary authorities will be contested in their entirety – including Bedford, Brighton, Stoke, Redcar and York

There are no elections in London this year, but voters will be going to polls almost everywhere else.

There are 30 unitary councils, including Bedford, Stoke-on-Trent, Redcar and Cleveland and York, which will be re-elected in their entirety.

There will be a battle royal in Brighton where, after a series of defections and by-elections, the Conservatives are now the largest party, having overtaken Labour.

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Media captionCouncil elections: Why don’t two-thirds of people vote?

All of the 54 seats are up for grabs and the Green Party – which used to run the council between 2011 and 2015 – is also looking to boost its presence.

In Cheshire West and Chester, with all seats to be voted on, the council is on a knife-edge with both Labour and the Conservatives fighting to be the largest party.

Milton Keynes, Bolton, Calderdale and Blackpool may also switch hands, or the ruling party could lose its majority and surrender overall control.

A third of the council seats are up for grabs in Peterborough.

With a parliamentary by-election potentially on the horizon – a recall petition having been launched against sitting MP Fiona Onasanya – the local polls will give a good indication of the town’s mood.

What impact will Brexit have?

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Conservatives did relatively well in 2015 and the pressure will be on Theresa May this time

Many voters will be motivated by purely local issues or what the political parties call “pavement politics”, whether it is bin collections, parking or housing.

But Brexit is hard to ignore right now.

The polls will be a big test for Theresa May, who is under growing pressure from her own MPs and local activists angered by delays to the UK’s departure from the EU.

Labour’s performance will also be closely watched, and the extent to which it is able to appeal simultaneously to Remain and Leave voters in different parts of the country.

UKIP is fielding about 1,400 candidates, while the newly launched Brexit Party are focusing their attention on the European elections.

On the other side of the Brexit argument, the new centrist party Change UK did not register in time to put up candidates for the local elections.

This means that pro-Remain support, if it is an issue for local election voters, could work its way to Green Party and Liberal Democrat candidates.

What about mayoral contests?

There are six mayoral contests taking place, in Bedford, Copeland, Leicester, Mansfield, Middlesbrough and a Metro Mayor for North of Tyne.

Voter ID trials continuing

The government is continuing with its voter ID trials, which it says is part of an effort to reduce voter fraud and ensure vote security.

Some councils will ask for photo ID, such as a driving licence. Some will ask for a mix of photo and non-photo ID, while some will accept polling cards.

In Broxtowe, Craven, Derby, North Kesteven and Braintree, voters will have to show either one piece of photo ID or two forms of non-photo ID. In Mid Sussex, Watford and North West Leicestershire, people will have to bring their polling cards or photo ID.

Voters in Pendle and Woking will only be able to show photo ID at the polling station to be given a ballot paper. East Staffordshire and Ribble Valley councils pulled out of the trial.

What about the rest of the UK?

Voters will be going to the polls in Northern Ireland to elect 462 councillors across 11 council areas. You can read more about the elections in this guide.

There are no local elections this year in Wales or Scotland.

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