In depth: Everything you need to know about the 2021 elections

ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks explains how the West Midlands, Hartlepool and Tees Valley are the key battlegrounds for Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer

Words by ITV News Election Analyst Colin Rallings

Elections are back. And tomorrow virtually every elector in Great Britain will have the opportunity to vote for the first time since the general election in December 2019.

The contests for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Senedd are key to their countries’ governance.

In Scotland, the SNP fell two seats short of the 65 required for an overall majority at the last elections in 2016. They are now anxious to make the necessary gains to ensure that any proposal to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence will carry greater weight.

On paper, seven seats would fall to them with just a 2% swing from either Labour or the Conservatives.

But the electoral system makes things more complicated. Voters have two votes. One for a constituency representative and one for a party at regional level.

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston explains how SNP's majority will be a "crisis" for Boris Johnson and if Labour loses the by-election in Hartlepool it will be "terrible" for Sir Keir Starmer

Constituency level victories are discounted when it comes to allocating regional seats so a gain at one level can often bring a loss at the other.

The idea is to make the final result a more proportional representation of the votes cast for each party but means that winning a majority is difficult to achieve.

The ‘pro-union’ parties have a common interest in denying the SNP such a majority of course, but have their own battles to fight.

Labour was long dominant in Scotland but now has a single MP at Westminster. It was beaten into second place by the Conservatives in 2016 and at the 2017 and 2019 general elections.

The Conservatives have benefited from support among voters who reject independence and wanted to leave the EU and will be keen to preserve that coalition.

Polling stations will be open from 7am to 10pm. Credit: PA

They are targeting several SNP seats in the north east of Scotland where they had general election success in 2017, especially.

Labour needs to show evidence of recovery in the industrial central belt including in Glasgow where the SNP currently holds all seats at both Holyrood and Westminster.

The Greens, who could help Nicola Sturgeon to govern if she falls short, have a solid record at regional level at least, but the Liberal Democrats have struggled in Scotland as elsewhere in Britain in recent years.

Alex Salmond’s new Alba Party would be a strong supporter of a quick independence referendum, but polls suggest it has failed to make much impact in the campaign.

ITV Wales Political Editor Adrian Masters explains how Labour's power in Wales could be at risk in the election

The electoral system in Wales is similar to that in Scotland. Labour has never had a clear majority, but there has always been a Labour First Minister.

Despite general approval of Mark Drakeford’s handling of the pandemic, they are now under pressure in parts of their former heartland – the so-called ‘red wall’.

Four constituencies in north Wales which Labour won at the last Senedd elections went Conservative in 2019. The party may now need a coalition agreement to retain power.

First Ministers Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford are likely to retain power in Scotland and Wales. Credit: PA

Plaid Cymru came second to Labour in constituency votes at the first three devolved elections in Wales and won a single seat more than the Conservatives last time.

The party expects to do better at these contests than at Westminster elections and this time is urging electors to support it with their regional vote regardless of the tactical situation in each constituency.

The Liberal Democrats have a single seat in the Senedd which may now be in jeopardy. They could manage no better than fifth behind UKIP (who won seven regional seats) in 2016.

UKIP are fielding candidates again, though with much less likelihood of success, as are the Greens and a handful of other smaller parties.

The elections in England are less immediately consequential. Most attention will focus on the Hartlepool parliamentary by-election.

The Hartlepool House of Commons seat could fall to the Tories for the first time in its history. Credit: AP

This has been a Labour seat for all but five years since the Second World War, though the party faces a tough fight to hold on.

Hartlepool is an isolated community on the north sea coast and its local politics have been chaotic in recent times with councillors elected under one label then defecting to another party, be it Brexit or Socialist Labour.

In 2019, it saw the third best Brexit Party performance in the country with Labour’s winning share of the vote its fourth lowest anywhere. At the 2016 EU Referendum, nearly 70% of electors chose to ‘leave’.

Labour’s concern now is that it will be seen to have fallen back even from its 2019 low point and that Hartlepool joins other nearby ‘red wall’ seats like Bishop Auckland and Sedgefield in the Conservative column.

For all the arguments about the idiosyncrasies of Hartlepool and its politics, that would be a damaging reverse for the party and certain to dominate media coverage in its immediate aftermath.

Listen to the ITV News Politics Podcast:

Elsewhere, assessing the outcome of widespread local elections is complicated by the fact that they were last held against very different political backgrounds.

Most of the seats now being contested fell vacant in 2016 just seven weeks before British politics was turned on its head by the result of the EU Referendum.

Our estimate of the national equivalent vote put Labour one point ahead of the Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats just beating UKIP into third place*.

Against that benchmark Keir Starmer has some justification in calling them "tough" for his party, which currently seems some way behind in the polls.

Remain-voting London is perhaps one area where Labour has less of a problem. Sadiq Khan easily won the Greater London mayoralty in 2016 and the party is a single seat shy of a majority in the Assembly. It may do even better this time.

In other parts of urban England, Labour did relatively well in 2016 only to slump alarmingly after the referendum.

Labour leader Keir Starmer and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan campaigning for the London Mayoral elections. Credit: PA

In councils such as Barnsley, South Tyneside, St Helens, and Sunderland, which became tagged as part of the ‘red wall’, there was a double figure decline in Labour vote share at the 2019 local elections compared with 2016.

With only a third of seats up for election Labour seems certain to retain control of these councils, but the party needs to minimise losses to demonstrate it has recovered at least to 2016 levels. In towns in the south such as Crawley, Harlow, Hastings and Ipswich which contributed to Tony Blair’s landslide victories two decades ago, Labour equally needs to prove it remains competitive to make local success the harbinger of constituency gains.

Other, mainly county councils were last fought in 2017 after the UK had voted to leave the EU. The Conservatives beat Labour by more than ten points in the national equivalent vote* and made a net gain of almost 400 seats.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson waves as he campaigns in Hartlepool. Credit: PA

And it is no doubt with that in mind that Conservative co-chairman, Amanda Milling, has engaged in her own expectation management by claiming that her party will be defending "an incredibly high base".

For Labour, the 2017 local elections were one of several occasions in recent years when the party seemed to hit rock bottom.

It lost majority control of Derbyshire directly to the Conservatives; in both Lancashire and Nottinghamshire it was down by 10 seats and sacrificed its status as largest party to new Conservative dominated administrations.

In all three cases, gains and ousting the Conservatives must now be a priority.

Although Labour hung on in unitary Durham in 2017, its majority has since shrunk following by-elections and defections.

In December 2019, it lost three of the six constituencies in the council area to the Conservatives. It is salutary to recall that as recently as 2013 three-quarters of all councillors here were Labour. Losing control now would have more than symbolic importance. The Liberal Democrats, who were often the star turn at local elections in the noughties, have had a hard time since the days of the Cameron coalition.

They are faced with the prospect of building slowly back up seat by seat and council by council as they successfully did 30 years ago. They will hope for further green shoots in places like St Albans and parts of Cambridgeshire. A majority of the seven combined authority and five city areas outside London which have mayoral elections look safe for Labour, but both Tees Valley and the West Midlands were surprise Conservative successes in 2017 with the party narrowly squeaking home on the back of its England-wide surge in support.

Tees Valley has had a Conservative mayor since 2017 and it appears that will remain the case. Credit:

Name recognition and Treasury largesse is now likely to assist the incumbent mayors. The Tees Valley result in particular should have been an early danger signal for Labour in its former northern heartlands and indeed the Conservatives now hold four of the seven constituencies in the area.

Hartlepool could now join these at the same time as the party retains the mayoralty too. And as if that’s not enough elections, there are also police and crime commissioners to be chosen - 39 in England and 4 in Wales.

These contests have often suffered from low turnout, but with most voters having additional reasons to go to the polls they may result in stronger mandates this time. *Calculated by Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher for the Sunday Times.