The 6th of May 2021 will see a huge raft of elections across most of the UK. Scotland and Wales will see their devolved bodies elected and thousands of council seats, 13 mayorships and 36 police and crime commissioners in England are up for grabs. In London specifically the Mayor and London Assembly are up. As added spice there is a high-profile by-election in the marginal northern seat of Hartlepool. This is the closest the UK comes to American Elections when it comes to long ballots and multiple races. It is a nirvana for UK election enthusiasts.
Scottish Parliamentary Elections
The SNP are aiming to secure an outright majority to claim a mandate for a Scottish independence – they need 4 seats. Meanwhile Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are trying to maintain their current seats. The Greens are looking to pick up a few. The Conservatives did well in 2016 but are struggling with the unpopularity of Boris Johnson and leader Douglas Ross. Labour’s new leader Anas Sarwar is well liked but the party cannot gain traction as the SNP and Greens hold most of the left-wing vote. Former SNP leader Alex Salmond has returned with his new Alba Party to assist the securing a pro-independence majority. However he is deeply unpopular, and polling is unclear if they will gain seats. It seems that a pro-independence majority will be secured by the SNP, Greens and Alba combined but it is unclear if the SNP can do it alone.
Read more about the Scottish Parliamentary Elections here.
Welsh Senedd Elections
In this election, not much is expected to change. Labour could pick up the two extra seats needed to dispense with their coalition partners (one Lib Dem and one Independent) and hold an outright majority. In 2016, UKIP won 12.5% of the vote and 7 seats but the party has since collapsed; they are polling at 0%. The Conservatives are set to benefit but it will not be enough to win the election. Pro-independence Plaid Cymru will also hope to gain some seats. They are in a fight with the Conservatives for second-place. The Lib Dems are at serious risk of being wiped out altogether. A good election for Labour would be securing a majority. A good election for Plaid and the Conservatives would be to gain some Labour seats, preventing them from securing an outright majority.
Labour MP Mike Hill resigned his House of Commons seat in March due to an employment tribunal relating to sexual assault, triggering a by-election in his constituency of Hartlepool.
This so-called “red-wall” seat has been won by Labour every time since it was created in 1974. It was one of the few which did not fall to the Conservatives in 2019, due to the Brexit Party drawing 25% of the vote. This time, the Conservatives will hope to consolidate this vote and take this deeply working-class seat. If Labour can hold on, it will be seen as a rejection of the Conservatives from the people who won them the election in 2019. If they lose it will be a devastating loss for Labour Leader Keir Starmer. He has been under fire due to a lack of opposition and failing to capitalise on Tory mistakes. The only poll of this race gave the Conservatives a seven-point lead, although by-election campaigns shift dramatically through the campaign so we cannot look too closely at these numbers.
Sadiq Khan replaced Boris Johnson as London mayor in 2016 and since then has become a regular whipping boy of the Conservatives. He also drew considerable abuse from Donald Trump while he was president. Despite this, Khan is polling well. Some show that he will not even need a 2nd round to wrap the race up. At this point he is almost guaranteed to win, with Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey running a low-key, error-strewn campaign. Both the Greens and Lib Dems are fighting it out for third. A successful election for either of them would see them cracking 10%.
There are a record number of candidates this year running campaigns at varying degrees and seriousness:
- Laurence Fox’s campaign has drawn a lot of attention. He is running on an anti-lockdown, anti-woke left platform and has £4m at his disposal. He is polling at 1-2%.
- There are two YouTubers in the race – Max Fosh, who is running purely to beat Fox, and Niko Omilana, who shot into the headlines with some publicity stunts and videos. Whilst it is unclear what his policies are, he did draw at 5% in the one poll he has been included in. Both YouTubers are encouraging young people to register to vote even if its not to vote for them.
- American podcaster Brian Rose is running a well-funded, if unclear campaign.
- Jeremy Corbyn’s loose cannon anti-vaxxer brother Piers Corbyn is also hoping to draw votes.
- The satire candidate Count Binface gained some press attention when he polled higher than Laurence Fox in a recent poll.
Londoners can also vote for the Women’s Equality Party; the Renew Party (centrists advocating UBI); the Animal Welfare Party; the Heritage Party (Social conservatives); UKIP; the Social Democratic Party; the Burning Pink Party (campaigning to abolish the post of London Mayor); Rejoin EU (backed by the European federalist group Volt); and independents Farah London and Nims Obunge.
English Local Council Elections
Approximately 4,650 council seats on 143 councils are up for election in 2021. The councils are controlled as follows – 47 Conservatives, 54 Labour, 33 no overall control, 6 Lib Dems, and 3 new councils. Not all councillors are elected at once; different councils operate on different cycles or only elect a third of their members at a time. Councillors are not well known outside of their areas, so individual races will not make national headlines. However, the overall results will give a good picture of how each party is doing in England. We will learn if there are regional variations in changes in support and see which parties have momentum. Council elections are almost treated like big detailed polls by the national parties and media given how little they affect people outside the local area.
The Conservatives are hoping to pick up seats off the back of a successful vaccine rollout. Labour too will look to gain seats off the perceived return of Tory sleaze that has hit the headlines recently. The Lib Dems did very well in the last tranche of council elections in 2019, but this time they will be on the defensive after being cast into the wilderness. The Greens, too, were very successful after international environmental protests in 2019 going, from 87 to 273 seats. This time they do not have the same momentum but will still hope to gain seats with increased interest in environmental issues and party loyalty to the main parties not extending down ballot so much.
Council elections only attract the more politically tuned in voters so independent activists, small parties, single issue candidates and resident’s associations often win races. National polling would suggest a small gain in seats for Labour overall. However, it would not take much for the Conservatives to be the winners instead.
English Mayoral Races
12 of the 24 other directly elected Mayors are up for election – seven Labour, four Conservative, and one newly established position for West Yorkshire. Not many of these races will be competitive, with most representing either rural deeply Conservative areas urban deeply Labour areas. Tees Valley, West Midlands and West of England were the only three competitive races last time around. Conservative candidates won them all by less than 3%, so these will be the ones to look out for.
English and Welsh Police and Crime Commissioners
All the Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales are up for election – 20 Conservatives, 14 Labour, and two Plaid Cymru. These roles were first created in 2012. The role of the commissioner is to generally oversee policing in their constituency. Some also oversee the fire service. Again, these results could be useful in identifying regional trends when combined with council and mayoral results.
All 25 London Assembly seats are on London ballots this year. Labour needs just one more seat to win a majority, which seems well within their reach. The Conservatives would do well to hold onto their five existing seats. The Greens will hope to add another seat to their current two (although this could be tough). Polling suggests that the Lib Dems could make gains, making this election a possible lone bright spot in a sea of losses.
Council of the Isles of Scilly
The remote Isles of Scilly (located at the southwest tip of England) will hold their Council elections. All 16 seats up for grabs. In 2017, all the winners were independents.
Turnout in these elections will be lower than a General Election.
- The highest will be in Scotland, where it is usually around 55% and could be higher due to the high-stakes election.
- Welsh Senedd elections usually have turnout in the low 40s – do not expect this to be high given the lowkey campaign this year.
- Hartlepool is a low turnout constituency and by-elections also have low turnout. Expect it to be in the 40s, as this is a higher profile race than some previous by-elections, which only achieve mid-30s.
- In London, the Mayorship is a big deal so turnout for that will be in the mid-40s (higher than other mayor races). The London Assembly is on the same ballot so expect similar figures there.
- Turnout for the Councils, Mayoral races and Police and Crime Commissioner races will range between 25% and 35%. Only politically engaged people vote in those elections.
In England, councillors are elected either by block voting or first-past-the-post. The Police and crime commissioner and mayoral races use the Supplementary Vote system – voters select a first and second choice. If no one gets 50% the first time, all but the top-two are eliminated and the second choices redistributed to the remaining two candidates. In Scotland, Wales, and the London Assembly they use the Additional Member System. Voters vote for a constituency representative and a party in a regional list vote. In Scotland and Wales, the voting age is 16 while in England it is 18. Residents who are citizens of the UK, Ireland, the EU or qualifying commonwealth countries can vote. Voters can be registered in two local authorities in some situations (like students living away from home) and can vote in both.