By-election results

Looking ahead to the May elections

Professors Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher are Directors of Plymouth University's Elections Centre

At the turn of the year the minds of political party activists inevitably turn to the coming May elections.

By-elections, whether local or parliamentary, can exaggerate trends and throw up idiosyncratic results. That appears to be what happened in the Sandhill ward in Sunderland, and may be the case too in the vacated Westminster seats in Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central.

The annual contests, however, are more reliable guides to the underlying political mood at both authority and national level. The impact of Surrey's referendum on its proposed 15 per cent council tax rise is certain to spill over to the election results themselves. And UKIP needs to defend seats won from the Conservatives in its 2013 insurgency at the very moment the party appears to be training its ammunition on Labour instead.

This year some 2,300 seats in the 27 English shire counties and in six ‘county' unitaries are up for grabs. In addition, there are all-out elections and a mayoral contest in Doncaster, and a mayoral election in North Tyneside. In Wales, all 22 councils have elections for the first time since 2012 (2013 in Anglesey). 

This year also marks inaugural elections for several of the new so-called ‘metro mayors' in combined authorities. The MPs Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham have already been selected as the Labour candidates (and favourites) in Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region respectively, though elsewhere sitting councillors and local business people could be in the frame.

The county elections are always a difficult point in the electoral cycle for Labour. The last time these seats were fought, in 2013, Labour won scarcely over 500 seats compared to the Conservatives' 1,100, and struggled to beat UKIP in the popular vote. Indeed, in 16 of the 34 councils with elections, Labour representation is stuck in single figures and in only about 100 of the seats falling vacant is Labour in second place and within 10 points of the winner.

For their part, the Conservatives will look to recover ground from UKIP, who have been polling some 8 per cent lower in by-elections in these areas than they did in 2013. In particular, they will want to win back clear overall control in a string of counties in eastern England where they were badly hurt by the UKIP surge of four years ago.

The Lib Dems seem to have recovered momentum with some sharp increases in share of the vote in local contests. There will be no dramatic turnarounds in council control, but expect gains from the Conservatives in the south west where the party has had historical strength and – until 2015 – a number of MPs.

Labour did well in Wales in 2012, advancing by more than 200 seats and coming out more than 20 percentage points ahead of their party political rivals. Since then, however, UKIP, who contested just 13 wards five years ago, have become a more potent force and won seats at last year's Welsh Assembly elections. They are now poised to threaten Labour hegemony in some of its heartland valleys councils.

Local by-elections

Please click here for an excel document containing additional data on all recent local by-election results.

Blackburn With Darwen, Higher Croft
LAB HELD
33.2% over UKIP
Turnout 15%

Bromsgrove, Norton
CON HELD
6.5% over Lab
Turnout 24.1%

Dover, Aylesham
LAB HELD
17.9% over Con
Turnout 20.3%

Eastleigh, Hedge End Wildern
LIB DEM HELD
39.3% over Con
Turnout 24.9%

Powys, Welshpool Llanerchyddol
IND HELD
16.8% over Lib Dem
Turnout 36%

St Edmundsbury, Moreton Hall
IND GAIN FROM CON
34.3% over Con
Turnout 18.1%

Sunderland, Sandhill
LIB DEM GAIN FROM LAB
20% over Lab
Turnout 23.3%

Taunton Deane, Blackdown
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
48.7% over Con
Turnout 35.6%

Teignbridge, Bovey
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
10.9% over Con
Turnout 29.3%

Teignbridge, Chudleigh
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
15.9% over Con
Turnout 26.5%

Three Rivers, Gade Valley
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
41.8% over Con
Turnout 20.8%

Waverley, Cranleigh West
CON HELD
24.9% over Lib Dem
Turnout 19.1%

30 January 2017