Monday, 11 April 2011

An Introduction to: Plymouth City Council Elections 2011

After much wrangling about how to cover this May's English Council elections we've just about come up with a coherent plan. After last year's genius idea to look at every single constituency in Britain there was no way we were going to try and do all 279 Councils that are holding elections this year IN ADDITION to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland devolved assemblies! So the bright idea is to take advantage of our respective current (and previous) locations and cover the local elections there. So, Plymouth, and a few others, will be featured a fair bit over the next few weeks. Fear not; we will indulge in some broad stroke commentary highlighting the key battles in each region. But we hope you enjoy our non-random focus, whether you live in or near the Council areas or not!


Plymouth City Council is a former District Council which had Unitary status bestowed on it in 1998. It elects its 57 Councillors by thirds with 17 of the 20 wards contributing three representatives. The other three (Drake, Plympton Chaddlewood and Plympton Erle) supply two Councillors a piece. 2011 is Plympton Chaddlewood's year off and so voters in that ward will only have the excitement of a national referendum on AV to entice them to their polling stations.

Plymouth has been controlled by the Conservatives since 2007 and that shouldn't change this year. They currently hold 36 seats (including two vacancies) compared to Labour's 20 and as the magic number here is 29 the Tories have to lose eight seats to lose the Council. Although this isn't impossible a few safe wards make it quite improbable.

What is very notable about Plymouth is that the two main parties hold an iron grip on the city. The last time another party won a seat here was in 2004 when the Liberal Democrats were victorious in Plymouth Erle. The third party's complete absence in the city is slightly bemusing given the Social Democratic Party's leader David Owen was a Member of Parliament here until 1992. A combination of demographic disadvantages and recent infighting locally go a long way to explaining the Liberal Democrats' current lack of representation in Plymouth. The local party do not appear to be in a good way at the moment as having put up a full slate of candidates last year they have fielded candidates in just 8 of the 19 wards. This compares badly to UKIP who have 18 candidates across the city.

Of the 19 seats up for election this May the Tories are defending 11 and Labour 8. Of the Councillors elected in 2007 only one had been replaced in a by-election; Labour's Claude Miller. There was a double vacancy election held in Efford & Lipson last May to replace Miller after his resignation. In addition only one Councillor has change parties since their election. Mark King was elected as a Labour Councillor in St Peter & the Waterfront but he left the party and has been sitting as an Independent.

It's a fair assumption that Labour will hold the eight seats they managed to win in 2007 considering their current polling relative to four years ago. Two of those wards (Moor View and St Budeaux) were lost to the Tories in 2008 and so in theory could be in play, but as the Liberal Democrats are not running in either Labour should win comfortably. The real question is how many of the Conservative seats they can pick off in their quest to take control of the Council.

Of the eleven seats the Tories are defending three are under serious threat from Labour, and will almost certainly switch. Bushead, Southway and Stoke were all wards the Conservatives gained from Labour in 2007. All three seats in those wards were very competitive in 2010 with the Tories just coming out on top in each one. Labour must fancy picking these off as they are considerably up in the opinion polls compared to this time last year, especially as all three wards are to be contested by just Labour, Conservative and UKIP candidates only.

Eggbuckland was another Conservative gain in 2007 so Labour will be looking to bring that ward back into their fold. Although the Tories have won this ward handily in the two subsequent elections this is yet another ward the Lib Dems failed to find a candidate for, despite polling 18% last year. With that in mind the 5% CON>LAB swing looks well within range. The Conservatives were also run quite close in the Drake ward last May but the Liberal Democrats were the main challengers. The Lib Dems regard this ward as one of their best hopes in the city and are likely to target their limited resources here. However, they will struggle to fight the national tide and with Labour not too far behind in third last year this is another possible pick up for the reds. They require around a 6.6% swing to win this.

IF Labour manage to secure victory in Eggbuckland and Drake along with the easier targets of Bushead, Southway and Stoke they would still hold only 26 seats. They would still require three more from somewhere and unfortunately for them the other six Conservative held wards are very blue. It would be a shock if Labour won even one seat out of Compton, Peverell, Plympton Erle, Plympton Saint Mary, Plymstock Dunstone (where the sitting Councillor David Viney has sadly died), and Plymstock Radford. For the reds to take three is almost inconceivable. Interestingly, despite holding Plympton Erle as recently as 2008 the Liberal Democrats aren't contesting that ward this year. Given the Tories took 60% of the vote to gain the seat I doubt the Lib Dem absence will make a lot of difference.

Labour do have a chance at an additional seat following the recent resignation of the Conservative Councillor for St Peter & The Waterfront, Sally Stephens. Labour hold one seat in this ward and the aforementioned Mark King was elected as Labour Councillor in 2007 so they will be hopeful of a gain in this by-election. Unfortunately this still leaves Labour with an effective glass ceiling of 27 seats this election, two short of a majority. Of course, to bring the Council this close would be of great benefit to the party considering the Conservatives' current strength.

In reality bringing their numbers up to 25 seats would be good platform to build on with the aim of taking control of Plymouth next May. The Tories hold 14 of the seats up for grabs next year (although that includes the St Peter & The Waterfront seat that is to be contested in a double vacancy this year) so there is plenty of opportunity for Labour to find the extra seats required for a majority. In the coming weeks we'll attempt to cover the twists and turns of this CON/LAB battleground as thoroughly as our meagre recourses will allow!


  1. Can you give us an idea of which seats that you'll be covering? Cambridge would be wonderful :)

  2. I am covering North Warwickshire (as I have a relation who is a sitting councillor on that authority), I also have information on North Somerset and St. Edmundsbury (but Tom thought that North Warwickshire would be the most interesting)