UK local elections: what is up for grabs, and what might we learn?

Much of the UK will go the polls on 5 May for local and regional elections that will be seen as a key test for Boris Johnson after months of negative headlines over allegedly lockdown-breaking parties. Local elections can be hard to decode, so here is what is up for grabs, and what we might learn.

In Inghilterra, there is a fair bit: 33 metropolitan borough councils, copertura 904 seats; 21 unitary authorities, con 627 seats; 60 district councils (1,011 seats); 32 London boroughs (1,817 seats); plus mayors in six London local authorities, and a South Yorkshire combined authority mayor.

In Scotland, there are 1,219 seats up for grabs in 32 councils, while for Wales it is 1,234 seats in 22 councils. Irlanda del Nord will vote for the 90 members of its devolved assembly.

For the Conservatives, they are confident of some gains, Compreso taking control of Sunderland council from Labour for the first time, despite worries over “partygate” and the cost of living, which would be a boost for Johnson. Labour will be looking to show progress in councils such as Dudley in the West Midlands, which the Conservatives took control of last year. Labour will also hope for strong results in London, with key boroughs including Barnet, Westminster and Wandsworth, all of which are Tory-held. In Wales, Labour will be hoping to keep control of Cardiff, and in Scotland, the Conservatives will be defending seats won in 2017, when the party performed relatively well.

Elections for the assembly could be crucial, not least because polling currently predicts that Sinn Féin will overtake the DUP as the largest party in Stormont, which would mark a notable shift in political fortunes. There are concerns that, if relegated to being the second-largest party, il DUP could refuse to take part in the power-sharing system unless the UK government meets its Brexit protocol demands. This could mean a return to rules from London, just two years after power sharing was restored after a three-year political standoff.

It is very hard to call. Local elections are always tricky to forecast, not least because many councils are returning just some councillors in wards, while this year many boundaries have also changed. In England these seats were last fought in 2018, when Labour and the Lib Dems made gains, especially in London, mentre il Conservatori had a net reduction in councillors. Labour have been consistently above the Tories in national polls for the past few months, but that might not translate into gains, given the 2018 results and the mix of councils.

Polling shows his personal favourability with the public remains notably low, and opposition parties have said they hear from a lot of “soft” Tory voters who are disillusioned with him. The Conservatives had hoped the war in Ukraine had diverted attention away from the headlines over parties, ma il decision by police this week to fine 20 persone involved in illicit gatherings in or around Downing Street during lockdowns has refocused attention on the issue. A key factor could be if Johnson is fined before 5 Maggio, or if the full report into the parties compiled by the senior civil servant Sue Gray is released by then, and what it says.

It varies. Some councils, including some in London, and certain metropolitan and unity councils, will count overnight on the Thursday, but even then the results may not come before Friday morning. Counts for other councils, and for the Northern Ireland assembly, will happen on Friday. With local elections, it is always worth reckoning on about 24 per 36 hours before you get a proper picture of who has done well or not.

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