Super Thursday is here – where are the seats to watch?

By Paddy Kent

At last, Super Thursday has arrived! With so many different elections being held, it’s been hard to get to grips. Thousands of district and county seats are up. New unitaries (Buckinghamshire and two in Northamptonshire) will elect councillors for the first time. Cities like Liverpool and Bristol are electing both City Mayors and Metro Mayors at the same time. In Hartlepool, there’s a tasty parliamentary by-election and across much of the country, Police and Crime Commissioners elections are taking place too (the role newly understood thanks to Line of Duty), meaning that many people have four or five ballot papers.

Over the last few months, we have analysed individual races across the country, so what are the key battlegrounds to watch as the results come in tonight, tomorrow and even into next week(!)

Basildon – Will the Tories storm back?

A Labour-Independent alliance took control of Basildon in 2019. Now the Tories think they can win the council back, although the performance of the Independents is the big uncertainty and makes predicting the outcome hard.

The Town Centre Masterplan has been a key issue in the campaign, with the Conservatives pledging to rethink the masterplan which would bring significant high density redevelopment development in the town centre.

Complicating things further is a new party formed solely to oppose what they see as inappropriate development – but in Basildon’s crowded political market, will they cut through?

Cambridgeshire – Conservative Mayor looks to solidify his position.

Mayor James Palmer thinks his record on £100k homes, investment in market towns, a new university and plan to deliver a new metro (CAM) will see him re-elected – in fact his failure to he hasn’t even published a manifesto.

The Lib Dems gained control of South Cambridgeshire in 2018 and have stood Aidan van der Weyer, South Cambs Deputy Leader – they think they have a chance. Aidan has made the most of the Mayor’s ‘blue-on-blue’ spat with MHCLG over affordable housing delivery and says he wants to rip up the current plans for the CAM, which is key to planning strategic sites in the decades to come.

The Conservatives currently hold a small majority on the County Council, but will expect to retain this.

St Albans – Lib Dems look to secure their control.

Running a minority administration since 2019, the Lib Dems are feeling confident about taking full control of the council – after all they also won the parliamentary seat in 2019. However, with the Conservatives polling strongly, will the vaccine bonus see the Conservatives win back seats.

The Lib-Dem run Council has pledged to start work on a new Local Plan afresh after the previous plan was quashed by an Inspector, but with the Call for Sites published later this Spring, development hasn’t been a major issue in the campaign.

Guildford/ Surrey – Will the Conservatives retain the County Council?

No routine borough elections in Guildford, but the outcome of the Surrey County Council elections will be interesting for Guildford’s politics. Back in 2019, at borough level, the Conservative administration’s controversial Local Plan meant that the Conservatives lost 22 seats and control of the Council to a Lib Dem and Residents for Guildford and Villages (R4GV) alliance.

This time round, Surrey County Council elections are being held. Despite only controlling 2 of Surrey’s 11 districts, the Conservatives will expect to retain control at County level. But R4GV are challenging for CC seats for the first time. If the Conservatives manage to increase their share of the vote in the Guildford seats that would be a big setback to the other parties’ hopes to retain control of the borough.

Newham, Tower Hamlets – rethinking Borough Mayors

With Sadiq Khan a dead-cert for the Mayoralty, you might be surprised to see two solid Labour boroughs in this list. As London Boroughs, they don’t have elections at Borough level (by-elections aside). However, each is holding a referendum on having a Borough Mayor. Meanwhile Croydon plans a referendum in October on introducing a Mayor.

But Newham and Tower Hamlets have taken the opposite approach – the question there is about whether to remove the post of the Mayor, with each proposing a different governance model to replace it with.

In every case, in theory the arguments for and against the options are about democracy, governance and accountability, but this often bellies a struggle within the ruling Labour party. Clear? Next week we will take a closer look at the results and what this means for the future of leadership in the boroughs.