man voting in elections at polling station

Local elections: why do they matter?

Heading to the polls last Thursday, I bumped into colleagues who, when I asked if they would be voting, dismissed the idea completely. Confused about their indifference, I questioned their apathy, to which they responded that they will vote in the important elections, but certainly not now. Their disregard for local elections made me realise that young people are completely disillusioned with politics. With this being the first opportunity that many have had to vote (myself included), it seems sensible to explain why these elections were, in fact, important, and what their impact may potentially be.

Last week, voters across England and Wales cast ballots for mayors, councillors, and police and crime commissioners. Though these elections are highly localised and tend to not be quite as party-charged as a general election would be, the results are still extremely important looking at the year ahead. From voter apathy to independent gains, here is everything you need to know about the local elections.

The council elections saw major losses for the Conservatives, losing over 450 councillors as voters appear to have lost faith in Sunak’s party. However, things are looking up for the Liberal Democrats, who have gained 104 councillors. In fact, according to party analysis, the Liberal Democrats have gained more council seats than any other UK party in the past five years, gaining 768 council seats while the Conservatives have lost 1,783. Labour saw significant gains of 186 councillors in the elections and maintained strength on the mayoral front, with prominent figures such as Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram and Sadiq Khan hanging on to their regions.

Conservative Andy Street, incumbent of seven years, narrowly lost to Labour‚Äôs Richard Parker. Speaking to the BBC, Street attributed his loss to his personal campaign rather than a loss of faith in the Conservative Party. However, former home secretary Suella Braverman urged the Prime Minister to ‚Äúchange the plan‚ÄĚ, describing the Conservatives‚Äô performance in the elections as ‚Äúterrible‚ÄĚ. Despite these disastrous results from the Conservatives, the Party have not yet disposed of Sunak, potentially due to the lack of other viable candidates to lead the Party through a general election – the results indicate a lack of faith in the Prime Minister that the Conservative Party seem to be brushing under the carpet.

On the other side of the spectrum, those on the Labour Party view the election results as a marvellous show of Starmer‚Äôs potential. The chief of campaigns, Pat McFadden, feted Labour‚Äôs ‚Äútremendous‚ÄĚ performance. But Labour‚Äôs performance among Muslim voters is not so promising, with the party‚Äôs stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict seen as unsatisfactory by many. As analysed by the BBC, in 58 local council wards where more than one fifth of residents are Muslim, Labour’s share of the vote was over 20% down on the 2021 results. The Labour Party‚Äôs divisions on the conflict have caused serious tensions within the party as Starmer waited until February to call for a ceasefire following mounting pressure – Labour may be seen as weak on the issues that matter most to young people, adding to the apathy that voters feel as their interests are not passionately advocated for.

The prominence of small parties is important in local elections Рvoters are arguably offered greater electoral choice as Labour and the Tories are no longer the only viable options. The Israel-Palestine conflict has clearly emerged as a salient issue among voters as George Galloway’s Workers Party of Britain won in four council wards, showing significant gains for a party that is strongly pro-Palestinian as voters turn away from Labour on the issue. Being an issue that is close to the hearts of many young people, the support for Galloway may have implications in shaping Labour’s policies to connect more with the youth. For Reform UK, the elections were neither tremendous nor shocking. Winning 16.9% of the vote in Blackpool South and gaining two council seats, Farage and Tice’s party is poising itself as a serious threat to Sunak Рcould the Conservatives see their vote split by Reform UK later this year?

The question still stands: why are the local elections so important? With the general election looming, the local elections are not only a stark reminder to Sunak that voters want to see change, but also a warning to Starmer that Labour may not be handed victory on a silver platter. With their stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict alienating much of its Muslim base, it is unclear whether Labour will be able to form a majority – the local elections are important as they shape the key issues of the general election, pointing towards huge Tory losses. Though the success of the Liberal Democrats and small parties may seem significant, these parties tend to outperform in local elections as the general election largely turns into a two-party race. However, it is more than possible that they may influence policy to avoid splitting the vote.

Local elections clearly do matter: they are the first hurdle in a race where currently, the Conservatives are trailing behind Р2024 will be a momentous year for politics globally and the recent elections are proof that the electorate demands change. Voter apathy among young people must be tackled before the general election if we are to challenge politicians and promote positive change Рpolitical education and awareness is an invaluable tool for all, especially in such high stakes. Although the local elections are, as their name suggests, highly localised, there is still a level of importance when it comes to young people’s faith in the mainstream parties.

That being said, is this a warning that the Conservatives need to get their act together, or should Sunak start packing his bags?

Image credit: Rhea Kaur