Election 2023: South West Political Preview

After a breath-taking ten months in UK politics, 4 May 2023 sees local elections the length of breadth of the country. The polls become the first significant electoral test for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. The elections will also indicate whether the landslide lead in the opinion polls for Labour can be turned into the currency of council seats at a local level.

Our analysis considers the key issues in some of the critical councils up for grabs in the south west and, importantly, whereabouts each local planning authority is in the development plan process.

We don’t make council-by-council predictions – that’s for the pollsters. But what is certain is that while expectations for Conservative performance in 2023 are rock-bottom, Labour’s are sky-high. As of 28 March 2023, the Electoral Calculus poll-of-polls suggests a 19-point lead. Anything else but sweeping to control in urban areas like Swindon and Plymouth would be considered underachievement.

The picture is less straightforward in Devon, with a mixture of Liberal Democrats, smaller parties and independents. There are also areas where the Tories hold safe parliamentary constituencies even in these problematic electoral conditions. Sir Keir Starmer will find it challenging to make headway here.    

This is the first local election since the days of Theresa May in the West of England councils (Bath & North East Somerset/ North Somerset/ South Gloucestershire). At a national level, opinion polling for Conservatives and Labour was around 24%. Only the Tories in South Gloucestershire escaped an electoral mauling – Labour did not benefit. With the opinion polls firmly in Labour’s favour now, this impact on these councils may prove the story of the night if sweeping gains are made. 

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