FTI Consulting Public Affairs Snapshot – 2021 Mayoral, Scottish, Welsh and Local Elections Analysis
Last Thursday, millions of voters across the United Kingdom went to the polls to vote in a mixture of mayoral, police and crime commissioner, and local authority elections, as well as in the races for control of the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments.
Given the ongoing situation with coronavirus, this was a somewhat strange set of elections with the usual hubbub of overnight election counts giving way to slower, socially distanced counts which saw the declaration of results stretch all the way from the early hours of Friday morning until Tuesday afternoon (a number of races remain uncalled at the time of writing).
For Labour, the bright sunshine of Friday morning brought political catastrophe: the loss of the Hartlepool by-election to the Conservatives.
There is no sugar-coating the loss. To lose a seat that the party has held for decades and was once represented by Peter Mandelson, one of the fathers of the New Labour project, is deeply embarrassing. Ahead of the result, Mandelson – who had campaigned actively in the by-election – promised to “go into meltdown” if the seat was lost.
It should be noted that Hartlepool would likely have fallen to the Conservatives in 2019 were it not for the presence of then-Brexit Party MEP Richard Tice on the ballot paper, who polled over 10,000 votes. This time, those votes moved squarely into the Conservative column.
This does not, however, take away from the totemic nature of the Conservative Party’s advance in this deprived, blue-collar coastal town. Indeed, it is only the third time in forty years that a governing party has gained a seat from the opposition in a by-election. The 7,000-vote victory margin secured by Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer can be broadly put down to two factors: the enduring popularity in “red wall” seats of Boris Johnson’s pro-Brexit brand and an overall “vaccine bounce” for the government.
For Labour, their loss in Hartlepool raises a number of existential questions about the party’s electoral future. For generations, winning constituencies like Hartlepool was a given for them; now, their political brand – which most voters continue to associate with the Remain side in the EU referendum – appears to sit more comfortably in affluent “metropolitan” constituencies like Putney and Canterbury which they gained in 2019 and 2017 respectively.
In reality, though, while the Labour Party will naturally be disappointed with the results, the overall picture for the party is not as altogether grim when analysing results at a distance as opposed to the initial aftershock of their loss in Hartlepool at dawn on Friday morning.
While the by-election loss and failure to secure a meaningful advance in Scotland will be a disappointment for Labour, the party did confound expectations by securing an overall majority in the Welsh Parliament and gaining a number of influential mayoral positions from the Conservatives in the south. In London, the Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan was elected by a comfortable, yet closer than expected, 55%-45% margin.
The SNP stormed to an expected victory north of the border, falling short by just one seat of an overall majority, but safe in the knowledge they will govern for a fourth term with support of the Scottish Green Party. The win lays the ground for a gargantuan battle with the UK Government in the coming months and years with the UK Government over the right to hold a second independence referendum.
The Welsh elections saw a key win for Labour, as First Minister Mark Drakeford led the party to its best-ever Senedd election result. This result can be attributed in large part to a perception that Drakeford’s administration has navigated the pandemic calmly and supported small businesses effectively. While the Conservatives saw moderate but unconvincing gains, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru suffered the heaviest defeats, with former Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood being unseated in the Rhondda. Just one seat short of a majority, Welsh Labour are now set to form a minority government, possibly looking to the minor parties for support.
All parties will take time to digest these results but for Labour a messy and, in the end limited reshuffle was the immediate reaction, with Party Chair Angela Rayner initially appearing to have been ‘sacked’ and Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds being moved. Once the dust settled Rayner was given a new role in the Shadow Cabinet with responsibility for the Future of Work (also retaining her elected Deputy Leader role), Dodds taking on the Party Chair job and Rachel Reeves becoming the new Shadow Chancellor. The reshuffle however seems to have pleased no-one with some of the party unhappy it did not go far enough and others outraged at Rayner being blamed for Labour’s losses.
Click on the links below to read our analysis:
- Mayoral elections
- Scottish Parliament elections
- Welsh Parliament elections
- English county and borough council elections
|The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals.
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