Now that the results of the 2021 Staffordshire County Council elections are in and we have a new council make-up for the next four years, it’s time to examine what happened, what this means locally, how this impacts the parties, what the big national picture is, and how it will impact the parties’ chances in Staffordshire at the next general election.
To understand the 2021 results, we need to look at the previous election. In 2017, the Staffordshire County Council elections proved to be a stunning victory for the Conservative Party, which was headed by a then-very popular Theresa May. They enjoyed a 15-20 percentage point lead in the polls and ultimately carried 53.8% of the vote, gaining 21 seats on the council to take their tally to 51. This was far above the 32 seats needed to govern as a majority party. It was also a much safer majority than the slim one they gained during the 2013 elections (they held just 34 seats from 2013-2017). Meanwhile, Labour lost 14 seats from their previous 2013 tally of 24, leaving them with just ten seats overall. The Brexit bubble decimated UKIP: they lost their only two seats on the council, after previously winning four in 2009 and losing two in 2013.
The 2017 County Council elections in Staffordshire were seen as a low point for Labour and a high point for the Conservatives, who were very popular locally, regionally, and nationally. Therefore, it was expected that Labour would make inroads into the seats gained by the Conservatives at the next election. However, it did not turn out that way when Staffordshire voters went to the polls on May 6th, with many making their minds up weeks before via postal votes.
The Conservatives, led by council leader and Lichfield Rural East councillor Alan White, gained six seats from Labour, putting their tally up to 57 seats out of 62. Labour now hold just four seats as a result. The final seat is currently occupied by Independent councillor Jill Hood, who was re-elected in the Stone Urban division.
Some of the most significant changes happened right near Keele. In Newcastle-under-Lyme, Labour lost three seats to the Conservatives. This occurred in the Audley and Chesterton division, the Keele, Knutton and Silverdale division, and in the Talke and Red Street division. This means that all nine divisions in Newcastle-under-Lyme are now represented by Conservatives on the Staffordshire County Council. This shift from Labour to the Conservatives has been in the making for the last few years; it was seen in the 2017 local elections and in the 2017 general election. It culminated in the 2019 general election, when Conservative parliamentary candidates gained Newcastle-under-Lyme, Stoke Central, and Stoke North from the Labour Party. The fact that Labour suffered a decline in their fortunes in the 2021 local elections must be a sign that significant political realignment is taking place in Staffordshire.
This realignment is a national trend, occurring most prominently above Birmingham where Labour is suffering among those in their late 30’s and 40’s. On a local level, signs of a potential recovery will next have the opportunity to emerge at the 2022 elections, when the whole of Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council is up for election. However, the Conservatives saw a 12% increase in their vote share in the elections last month to 58% while Labour managed to convince only 32% of voters to support them. This does not bode well for the Newcastle-under-Lyme Labour Party in 2022.
Keir Starmer’s leadership of Labour hangs on many towns and places that have seen similar voting patterns to Staffordshire and Newcastle-under-Lyme, where Labour have seen declines in their vote share since 2016 and 2017. For Labour to only hold four seats on Staffordshire County Council is a crushing defeat, along with their loss in the Hartlepool-by-election, but that only leaves one place to go – up! The Batley and Spen by-election, due to take place next month, might turn out to be the revival Labour is looking for.