Local elections: Twelve London commuter belt towns to watch as results come in

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  • May 4, 2023
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hree senior Tories will be closely watching their local council election results in London’s commuter belt for any swing against their party.

Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab and Michael Gove all face a battle to be re-elected as MPs when the next general election launches.

Chancellor Mr Hunt is currently MP for South West Surrey which is being split up and he will fight the next election in the Godalming and Ash constituency.

The three main parties on his local council, Waverley, are the Conservatives on 18, Liberal Democrats 17 and Farnham Residents 14.

In Surrey Heath, where Levelling-up Secretary Michael Gove is the MP, there are 17 Conservative, nine Lib-Dem, six Independent, two Green councillors and one Labour.

While closer to London, in Elmbridge, which covers ex-Justice Secretary Mr Raab’s Esher and Walton constituency, there are 18 residents association, 15 Conservative, 13 Lib-Dems and two Hinchley Wood Residents Association councillors.

Polling expert Lord Robert Hayward, a Conservative peer, said: “For the first time in many years the eyes of all the political parties will be on a range of councils across the South East which will affect the mood for the preparations for the General Election.”

Both Mr Raab, if he stands, and Mr Hunt could be vulnerable to any significant swing to the Lib-Dems, while Mr Gove has a bigger majority.

It is difficult to make any direct read-across from local council election results to an upcoming General Election as the former are often decided by local issues and depend on how parties fared when they were last fought.

However, they can give an indication of political trends.

Other councils of particular interest in the commuter belt around the capital include Basildon, Dartford and Medway, as the expansion of the ULEZ anti-toxic air zone to the whole of Greater London may have an impact on the results in such areas.

Labour would be wanting to be gaining seats in these town halls, to the east of London, as a sign that they are heading towards a possible General Election uplift.

To the west of the capital, Swindon council, controlled-by the Tories, could be another barometer for the national poll next year, where former London deputy mayor Heidi Alexander is standing in the South Swindon seat for Labour.

While the Conservatives are braced to lose hundreds of seats across England, Uttlesford, in Essex and where the local MP is International Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, is one area where they are hopeful of making gains.

Sir Ed Davey launched the Lib-Dem local election campaign in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, with the party aiming to make gains on Dacorum council.

Another Tory-Lib-Dem contest at the next General Election is likely to be Guildford, currently held by Conservative Angela Richardson, so the results of the local elections there may give an indication of where the parties’ fortunes are heading.

In Brighton & Hove, the Greens will want to maintain their status as the largest party in the face of a possible Labour advance, and the Government’s decision to use Wethersfield former RAF base in Essex for a holding centre for men who cross the Channel on “small boats” could sway the election result at Braintree council which is taking legal action against the plan.

A total of 230 local authorities in England are holding elections on Thursday May 4, with more than 8,000 seats up for grabs.

Areas to watch also include Darlington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough in the North East which could reveal whether Labour is on track to gain back more Westminster seats across the broader former “Red Wall” swathe of the country.

The biggest test in the West Midlands for Labour is probably Stoke-on-Trent. The area was once a stronghold for the party, but the Tories now have all three MPs in the city and half of its councillors. Progress here for Labour would demonstrate it is winning back support in a former heartland.

Rishi Sunak launched the Tory local election campaign in this region, where his party will be defending key marginal Westminster seats like Dudley North, a town where the council is currently run by the Conservatives.

In the East Midlands, Derbyshire is home to several key contests, including Bolsover, where Labour is defending a slim majority, and Derby, where every seat is in play and where Labour is hoping to oust the minority Tory administration to become the largest party.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer paid an early campaign visit to Plymouth, where his party needs five gains to take control from a minority Tory administration.