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Essex, that deep-blue empire

local advocacy

We hear a lot about the Red Wall and the Blue Wall, but Labour and Conservative campaigners alike will be focused on how next Thursday’s local elections play out on the Eastern Terrace. On what will be a relatively small council election day, over 10% of contested seats are in Essex. Almost 15% of defending Conservative councillors across the country next week will be in Essex. 

In the forty years since the term ‘Basildon Man’ was coined, Essex has generally provided a good ground for the Conservatives. However, fortunes have changed in some local authorities in recent years as Conservatives have seen councils like Tendring, Uttlesford, Rochford and Castle Point slip from their grasp.  

Three of the 16 councils the Conservatives are defending across the country are in Essex and all face all-out elections due to boundary changes. Minority-Conservative-controlled Thurrock and Southend are also on the line. 

For the pollsters and the strategists, it is the Conservative-Labour councils that will be closely watched next week: Basildon, Harlow and Thurrock. All eyes will be on them next week to see if grassroots support for Rishi has crumbled in this core heartland, and if Keir has earned the trust of Basildon Man.  


Basildon has switched several times in the last ten years between red and blue. Conservatives regaining in 2021 was a sure sign Labour was not yet able to say they were appealing to Conservative-facing middle England marginals. However, there is more danger/opportunity this year as new boundaries mean it’s an all-out election rather than one-third. Labour is only standing 26 candidates and would need 22 of them to be elected to form a majority administration. In fact, in wards with low Labour support, they are offering one token candidate instead of a full slate of three. The Lib Dems have done the same where Labour is the best bet to beat the Tories. Independents based in Nethermayne and Langdon Hills will also benefit from this. Unable to hold this council for longer than two years, Labour appears to be aiming at a coalition. 

Castle Point  

In Castle Point, two large groups of independents have ruled together since 2022, with the Canvey Island Independent Party (CIIP) and People’s Independent Party (PIP) having 16 seats each. With new boundaries in effect, all seats will be up for election. The new boundaries also mean two fewer seats on Canvey Island (therefore for the CIIP). Although CIIP is the original independent party here, this puts PIP in a pole position to be either the senior partner or have an outright majority as their area in the north of the district has a majority of seats. 

Conservative candidates will stand in only 22 seats as 13 nomination forms were ruled invalid. Their best chance to hold or gain seats would likely be in Hadleigh St James, Thundersley North and St George’s wards, but they could be looking at a wipeout.  There is no local plan here yet, and Michael Gove has written to the leader about the dangers of not quickening the process for approval.  

Epping Forest 

In this all-out election, we expect the experienced Loughton Residents Association to hold their seats and continue being a thorn in the administration’s side. But there shouldn’t be any other outcome but a Conservative majority here. They even start with a 6-seat head start as in their strongest wards there are fewer non-Conservative candidates than seats up for grabs. The non-conservative voters vote very tactically here. The number of Independents and Lib Dems has been slowly rising, which may affect the Conservative majority. 


In this district Labour and the Conservatives have traded blows and control here in the last 15 years. Labour will be desperate to take back this red-facing marginal and provide a personal springboard for the parliamentary candidate and Labour Group leader Cllr Chris Vince. The Party gained five seats last time and simply needs to repeat that to make it happen. There are no intra-party agreements or rainbow coalitions, it’s a simple head-to-head, and results here seem to work almost independently of the national polls. 


In a district becoming used to NOC, the Conservatives finally lost control in 2023, while remaining the largest party. A rainbow coalition of Lib Dems, Residents, Independents and Greens (24) are ranged against the blues (14). A third are up for election with only the Conservatives fielding a full slate. Only three seats have both Lib Dem and Independent candidates; Rochford Residents have been given a free run in three seats. Elsewhere there is a gentlemen’s agreement on non-competition that would appear to seal the fate of the local Conservatives somewhat provided the electorate acquiesces to the proposed sharing of spoils for the incumbent rainbow. 


Up in thirds and currently in Conservative minority control, recent history there has been no Conservative collapse but rather up/down by a couple each round. Meanwhile, Labour has been chipping away at Independent (and other) representation. We will soon find out whether Labour support is maxed out or not.