A Guide to the Upcoming May 6 U.K. Elections

On Thursday, 6th May, the U.K. will vote in local elections. Some seats are for local council, others for the Welsh Senedd, Scottish Parliament, police & crime commissioner, mayoralty and even a by-election. It may sound a bit of a muddle for non-Brite, so here’s the lowdown:

English Councils

Let’s start with councils.

Each area has its own council that runs the local area. These councils are broken down into smaller groups, called wards, that represent small parts of the constituent area. More than one councillor exists per ward and elections for each rotate every year. 

There are also several types of council: county (does what it says on the tin), metropolitan, unitary, non-metropolitan districts, London Assembly, and finally, the mayoralty.

Some councils will only have a handful of seats up for grabs, whilst others will have all of them this year- it all depends on what cycle they’re on. 

Each party who chooses to fight a seat will have one candidate for said seat, with independents also joining in. Some seats are ultra safe and only have “paper candidates” from less-likely rivals. These paper candidates are usually young people who need to earn their political stripes.

A typical ballot would look like this made-up example:

Central Ward, Middleville

  • Andrews, John (Liberal Democrat)
  • Hayes, Victoria (Conservative and Unionist)
  • Little, Jane (Labour and Co-Operative)
  • Mann, Henry (Brexit Party)
  • Stevens, Michael (Green)
  • Young, Paul (Independent)

Labour and the Conservatives will nearly always be on the ballot, whilst other parties/candidates will decide whether it’s worth their time to put someone up.


There are several different mayoralties across the country- some are combined authority and others are single authorities. These mayoralty elections may have more than one round if no candidate reaches 50% plus one.

London Assembly 

The London Assembly has two different divisions. The first are constituency assembly members. The second are London-wide. In the second group, there will be a list of candidates for each party. When the results are in, parties will have candidates seated in the assembly based on how well their party did overall.

Mayor of London

The first Mayor of London was elected in 2000, as the system of mayors is not as historically entrenched as in the United States. London is on its third mayor and if he is not re-elected, then it’ll be the fourth.

London’s diversity makes it a Labour area generally, but current Prime Minister Boris Johnson managed to win two terms here as a Conservative. The list of candidates is very large and includes both serious parties and joke candidates.

Though incumbent Sadiq Khan has been heavily criticised due to crime rates, particularly knife crimes, lack of credible opposition and other factors mean it’s almost certain he’ll sail into a second term.

Police and Crime Commissioner (Wales and England)

Police and crime commissioners are the ones who control policing in their districts. They are elected along party lines and the turnout is usually extremely low, especially when it doesn’t coincide with another vote like council elections. 

Hartlepool by-election 

The constituency of Hartlepool in Northeast England is due a by-election. On the 16th March, Labour MP Mike Hill resigned due to sexual assault allegations. 

A grand total of 16 candidates are in the running, including three former Labour MPs – though only one is the Labour candidate. The other two are running for The North East Party and as an independent candidate, respectively. Other major candidates include the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.

Hartlepool has been a Labour seat since its inception, but there are signs that the Conservatives are poised to win. It is a working class port town and voted nearly 70% to leave the European Union. Its Labour candidate, Paul Williams, is a Remain supporter who wanted a public vote on the Brexit deal. Its place in the so-called “red wall” is also notable, as the Conservatives gained many of these seats in the 2019 election. Hartlepool was one that the Conservatives could have gained that election, but votes were eaten up by Richard Tice of the Brexit Party.

Welsh Senedd

The Welsh Senedd, which changed its name from the National Assembly of Wales last year, will have sixty members voted in. They’ve extended the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds, as well as foreign nationals residing in the country – you can take that cynically if you wish.

There are several ways in which seats are voted on and allocated. Similarly to the London Assembly, there is both a constituent vote and a party list that will have them allocated based on the votes they get. 

Wales voted for Brexit and in the 2019 European Union elections, pro-remain Plaid Cymru was knocked off the top spot for the first time by the Brexit Party. Several seats also went Conservative for the first time in the 2019 General Election. UKIP also has several representatives, but this may change.

Welsh independence is seen as less likely than Scottish independence. First Minister Mark Drakeford of Labour has seen a lot of criticism due to his COVID leadership. 

Scottish Parliament

All 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament will be up for grabs this election. Their system is pretty identical to Wales – 16 and 17 year olds can vote, as can foreign nationals, while votes are divided into constituency and a regional ballot that allocates seats based on party performance.

The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) is in charge, but is facing pushback from both the Conservatives and Labour, who are second and third respectively. Complicating matters is former First Minister and SNP Leader Alex Salmond, who has formed the pro-independence Alba Party.

The 2014 independence referendum saw a vote to remain in the Union, though the SNP is still pushing. The Conservatives are the leaders of the pro-union movement, though other parties also join them in this respect. In 2017, then-Conservative leader Ruth Davidson managed to save the party’s bacon by gaining seats for them north of the border.

Labour was traditionally top dog there, but they have been pushed back by both the SNP and Conservatives in the past decade. Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister and SNP leader, has been the subject of controversy but we are yet to see what will happen. 

What result do we expect? 

Usually, the leading party does poorly in council elections, but there are exceptions; 2019 was great for the Conservatives.

Recent controversy surrounding Boris Johnson’s supposed comments about lockdown and his refurbishment of his flat by party donors has seen the Conservatives decline in the polls, but we are yet to see if that will go any further. Labour leader Keir Starmer isn’t beloved and the party remains behind in the polls.

Mark Drakeford and Nicola Sturgeon have both seen criticism recently, but both have distinctly different chances. Sturgeon is likely safe, but Drakeford isn’t. Salmond’s party won’t make a dent.

The Reform Party, founded by Nigel Farage and led by Richard Tice, is hoping to make an impact but it’s doubtful they’ll go too far. Smaller parties are hoping to break the deadlock, but they’re yet to really push their way into politics. Whatever happens, it’ll be a bumpy ride.

Sarah Stook is a freelance writer with a great interest in US politics. Her area of interest is the Republican Party, presidential elections and how campaigns are conducted. You can follow her on Twitter at @sarah_stook.

Leave a Comment