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All eyes on the South West

Local Elections MW
Planning Communications and Consultation
south west

2024’s set of local elections in the South West truly has something for everyone.  

Whether it’s the steady political drumbeat of a third of council seats being elected that you yearn for or the adrenaline rush of all-out elections, the region has you covered.  

Many of the local elections also correlate nicely with key Westminster battleground seats at the next election – whenever the Prime Minister eventually decides that will be. So, there are plenty of potential auguries to analyse after polling day. 

The headliner election is undoubtedly Bristol City Council, not least because all 70 seats will be up for election. In addition, it is also the first set of elections since Bristolians voted to abolish the position of mayor, held by Marvin Rees since 2016. Out with the mayoral system and in with a committee system, with committee chairs becoming the ‘go to’ councillors on certain policy matters rather than a leader-and-cabinet model. 

Bristol is also interesting because the Green Party currently holds 24 seats to Labour’s 23. Understandably, the Party will be throwing the political (and financial) kitchen sink at it to take majority control of the City, to go alongside their victory in Mid Suffolk in 2023. Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer has been a councillor in Bristol for nearly a decade and will be taking on Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire in the new seat of Bristol Central at the general election. The key challenge for the Greens will be winning seats beyond their city centre strongholds. Equally important, in my view, is what happens to the 14 Conservative seats. With their poor national polling, how many seats will they lose to the Lib Dems and Labour?  

Further up the M5 is Gloucester, visited recently by Rishi Sunak. Gloucester City Council sees all 39 seats up for election this May. In 2021, the Conservatives there benefited from a ‘vaccine bounce’ and took 22 of the 39. Conversely, Labour plummeted to just 3 seats, with the Lib Dems on 12.  Since 2004, Gloucester City Council has always had a Conservative leader, yet national polling points to this long cycle being broken in May. Gloucester, too, is another key Westminster seat, with Labour previously holding when it was in power nationally between 1997 and 2010.  

Stroud is a politically interesting place, where since 2011 it has been governed by coalitions of more political colours than a Bob Ross painting. 11 of the 15 Labour councillors elected in 2021 have since left the party, sitting as various forms of Independent. While currently the largest party, the Conservatives will be defending 20 seemingly precarious seats. The Greens will again be targeting Stroud to improve their 13 seats. Stroud is also a key Labour/Conservative Parliamentary seat with a significant Green vote.  

Other councils to watch include: whether Labour can improve on its position in Plymouth (following the last Conservative administration being felled by felling trees), whether Labour in Swindon can consolidate winning power for the first time in 20 years last May; and if the Greens can make further inroads into Labour’s majority in Exeter. 

While the South West may lack high-profile mayoral races of some other regions this May, it more than makes up for it with local council intrigue aplenty.