The local elections in the Anglia region and what they could mean for the general election to come

  • ITV News Anglia's Election Editor David Hughes takes a closer look at the areas in the East of England with local elections on 2 May 2024

With a general election looming in the next few months, the local council elections in May will perhaps provide a tempting appetiser for the main course to come.  

While local elections are not always the best indicator of wider political fortunes, they will be a flavour of what might happen when the country does eventually go to the polls to select the next government. 

The prime minister decides when to call a general election and it has to be held before January 2025. It is thought the most likely date will be in the autumn but it could be as early as the summer.

Local elections are also important in their own right - they decide who runs your local council providing services like social care, education, housing and transport.

In May 2024 there will be widespread elections in 18 council areas in the Anglia region.  On 11 of the councils it will be a one-third of the councillors facing election while the remaining seven have all-out elections following boundary changes in the electoral wards.

There will also be elections for police and crime commissioners in each of the nine police force areas covering the East of England.

There are nearly 500 council seats up for election on Thursday 2 May 2024 across the 18 local authority areas in the Anglia region with 1,700 candidates hoping to win the favour of voters.

Professor Paul Whiteley at the University of Essex takes a keen interest in elections and says council finances and the proximity of a general election will have an impact on the local election results.

Paul Whiteley is an emeritus professor in the Department of Government at the University of Essex Credit: ITV News Anglia

Professor Whiteley said: “The Local Government Association, which is the national organisation for all local government, says that up to 20% of local authorities could go broke in the next couple of years if nothing is done.

“So how are the voters going to react to that, given they're seeing the effects of this on the ground, whether it's motorists hitting potholes or waiting for childcare places or care home places and so on? 

“How are they going to react to that? That's a really big thing, which we haven't really seen before.”

Use the interactive map to find the current political composition of the councils with elections in 2024. If you cannot see the map on your device click here

Ten of the councils are currently hung where no one party has more than half the seats and therefore a working majority which can out-vote all the other parties.

In Milton Keynes, Labour are within two seats of securing that overall majority and taking control of the unitary authority for the first time in more than two decades.  In Brentwood in Essex, the Liberal Democrats need three gains to win outright power there for the first time since 2003.

Norwich is also technically a hung council after several Labour councillors left the party in a re-selection row.  They need a single gain to restore the majority they have held since 2012 but face strong challenges from the Green Party, who are the official opposition on the city council.

The Conservatives have majorities in Basildon, Epping Forest and Harlow in Essex.  There have been boundary changes in all of those areas so instead of one-third of the council seats up for election, it will be all of them.  That could put the Conservative majorities in Basildon and Harlow particularly under threat.

Labour run Cambridge, Ipswich and Stevenage with fairly secure majorities.  Stevenage in the only council in the Anglia region that has been in Labour hands since it was formed in 1974.

Castle Point in south Essex is run by a joint group of independent councillors representing the People’s Independent Party and the Canvey Island Independent Party.

Polling stations will be open from 7am until 10pm on Thursday 2 May 2024 Credit: ITV News

Professor Paul Whiteley at the University of Essex along with other academics have been researching how voting patterns in local elections can go on to predict the outcomes of subsequent general elections.

He said: “I think it's quite likely the general election will be in the autumn, say September, possibly October.

“One of the things I've been researching and with colleagues is whether one can predict the outcome of a general election from local elections. And the assumed wisdom has been, well, you can't really, but we've discovered that you can, if you look at it carefully. 

“So the results in May are going to tell us a lot about what will happen in the general election later this year.”

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