Proof that local election results mean nothing for the fate of Labour

Jeremy Corbyn

Political commentators of all stripes are pointing to the local election results to claim their view is widely represented in public opinion. As it stands at the time of writing, the Conservatives have lost roughly 1,000 councillors and Labour around 100, while the Lib Dems, Greens, and ‘Others’ have made significant gains.

But where it really counts, council elections mean little. Because they don’t determine the fate of Labour and other parties in a general election.


Take the 2017 local elections, for example, where the Conservatives gained 563 seats and Labour lost 382:

After the results, the media was awash with criticism of Corbyn and people calling for him to resign.

Yet only a month later, the UK went to the polls in the 2017 general election. And Theresa May lost her majority, while Labour increased its vote share by more than at any point since 1945.

One reason is that local elections typically have a low turnout. And the 2019 edition is expected to be even worse, with as little as a third of the electorate voting. This suggests local election results are a very skewed measure of overall public opinion.

Another reason is that, unlike a general election, council ones do not take place across Britain. In 2019, candidates are only contesting around 72% of English local authorities, and 11 councils in Northern Ireland.

But even if you estimate how parties would have done if the poll took place throughout the UK, the results are still way off. In 2017, the Commons Library took such an estimate (the ‘national equivalent’ share of the vote) and compared it with the general election results:

Labour received 13% more of the vote in the general election than the projection; even though the general election happened only a month later.

Political class is going to town anyway

These facts seem to matter little to many commentators, who are seizing on the 2019 results to advance their personal views:

And Sky‘s political correspondent Lewis Goodall claimed:

ITV‘s political editor Robert Peston, meanwhile, announced that Labour losses are the real story:

Much more significant is that Labour too is losing seats. And even though the attrition is much less than for the Conservatives, Labour should not be losing any councillors against a floundering government mid-way through a parliamentary term

But it’s clear that local election results mean little when it comes to projecting a general election outcome. So ignore the pundits using the results to advance their views. Because that’s what much of the commentary amounts to.

Featured image via BBC Newsnight/ YouTube

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