The Expectation Game
On Thursday 3rd May 2018, local elections were held in a variety of local councils and authorities, including all 32 London boroughs.
Since the ballots have been counted, hyper-partisan accounts have criticised ‘media bias’ and sought to share the ‘real facts’.
These posts have been shared thousands of times, and feature some key claims, which are potentially misleading.
‘Labour won more than half of the seats’: This statement omits Labour, notionally, held more than half of council seats up for election.
‘Best result in London since 1971’: This claim refers to London councillors. Outside the capital, there was a swing from Labour to the Conservatives.
‘Labour gained Plymouth’: Labour also lost control of the same number of councils as it gained, meaning a net change of zero councils.
Labour won 53% of the seats available.
Raw counts or shares of councillors and councils are not measures of success. Local elections in England goes through cycles, with different councils having seats up for election each year.
42% of seats up for election this year were in London boroughs.
The psephologist Professor Sir John Curtice said, in the Political Studies Association media briefing for these local elections, that “London does not constitute 42% of England”. The professor continued:
Headline totals of seats won and lost may seriously misrepresent the actual position of the political parties.
According to the BBC’s notional estimates (seeking to account for boundary changes), Labour held over 51% of all councillor positions up for this election in this cycle.
The projected national share, calculated by Professor Curtice and his team, have Labour and the Conservatives both on 35% this year.
Labour had its best performance in London since 1971.
This statement is referring to the number of councillors, when the party elected 1,221 councillors (and received 53% of votes) across London boroughs in 1971.
Only four borough councils have changed control since 2014: Barnet (NOC to Conservative), Richmond upon Thames, Kingston upon Thames (both Conservative to Liberal Democrat), and Tower Hamlets (NOC to Labour).
Focussing on London ignores there was a swing from Labour to the Conservatives outside of the capital.
Net Gain Zero
Labour gained Plymouth & Kirklees Council and ended Tory control of Trafford.
Labour lost control of Redditch (to the Conservatives), City of Derby, and Nuneaton and Bedworth (both to No Overall Control).
It is vital to remember the parties’ positions prior to the vote when reading claims about the latest local election.