In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

Local Election Performance

Whether a political party has had a good performance in the local elections has been an area of discussion, particularly for Labour. After the false election map being shared, another graphic showing a supposed anti-Labour (or anti-Corbyn) bias in media reporting has found its way around the contorted cocoons of Twitter and Facebook.


One of those descriptions is clearly relative. (Source: More Known Than Proven)

It shows that in 1995, Tony Blair’s Labour won 46% of council seats. In 2006, David Cameron’s Conservatives won 41% of councillors. In 2016, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour won 47% of council seats. This is then compared to supposed media descriptions of the results.

As explained on the More Known Than Proven blog, this is a false comparison [1]. These are completely different years, where local elections have different cycles to general elections, so there are different councils up for election. Some of these councils have all of their councillors elected in one go, like a general election for the council, whilst others elect only a third of their councillors at a time [2]. The percentage of councillors won is not a fair comparison.

There are two means of comparing council elections across years: the number of councillors (or councils) won or lost, and some measure of national share. For the latter of these measures, there is the projected national share — calculated by Professor John Curtice and his team, shown on the BBC — and the national equivalent vote share — calculated by Professor Colin Rallings and Professor Michael Thrasher [3]. The national equivalent vote share is often called the Thrasher & Rallings share.

1995, 2006, 2011 and 2016

In terms of seats and councils won and lost, the 1995 local elections across England and Wales saw Labour gain a net of 1,807 seats, with the Conservatives losing 2,018 seats [4].

This was the largest set of local elections in England and Wales, with all the new unitary authorities and all metropolitan borough up for elections.

As per the graph, we ignore the three Conservative leaders between John Major and David Cameron, and we consider the first local election under the current Prime Minister. In this election, David Cameron’s Conservatives won — on net — 316 seats, with Labour losing 319 councillors, overall [5].

Ed Miliband’s first local election as Labour leader is strangely absent from this graph, with Mr Miliband’s Labour party winning a net 857 seats [6]. The Conservatives also gained a net 86 councillors, with the Liberal Democrats — who were, at that point, coalition partners to the Conservatives in national government — losing 748 seats overall.

Finally, we come onto the 2016 local election, which is the first fought under Jeremy Corbyn. Aftet Bristol has announced, Labour lost a net 18 seats, and the Conservatives also lost 48 seats, overall [7]. The Liberal Democrats gained a net 44 seats, with UKIP picking up 26 more councillors.

Projected National Share

The other type of comparison is a form of national share.


Under the BBC’s projected national share (PNS), Labour had a PNS of 46% in the 1995 local elections, and the Conservatives were on 25%. In 2006, the Conservatives had a projected national share of 36%, with Labour on 24%, who finished below the Liberal Democrats. Ed Miliband’s Labour had a projected national share of 36% in 2011, beating the Conservatives, who had 35%. Lastly, in 2016, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour had a projected national share of 31%, whereas the Conservatives had 30%.

In these latest local elections, Labour won the popular vote, but did so on a low share of the projected national vote — it also won with 31% in 2014. The party also lost seats on net: the first time the Her Majesty’s Opposition has lost seats in local elections outside of a general election year since 1985.

Whilst the result may not be completely disastrous, it cannot reasonably be described as a good performance. The next step for Labour supporters is to define the measure on which they wish to judged — and stick to that measure.


[1] More Known Than Proven, 2016. Another terrible election graphic. Available from: [Accessed: 8th May 2016]

[2] GOV.UK, 2016. Election Timetable in England. Available from: [Accessed: 8th May 2016]

[3] Curtice, J., 2016. Calculating the Local Elections Projected National Share (PNS) in 2015 and 2016. Elections Etc. Available from: [Accessed: 8th May 2016]

[4] Clements, R., 1995. The local elections of 4 May 1995. House of Commons Library. Available from: [Accessed: 8th May 2016]

[5] BBC, 2006. Local elections 2006. Available from: [Accessed: 8th May 2016]

[6] BBC, 2011. Vote 2011: England Council Elections. Available from: [Accessed: 8th May 2016]

[7] BBC, 2016. England Council Elections 2016. Available from: [Accessed: 8th May 2016]


One comment on “Local Election Performance

  1. Pingback: Local Election Performance II | In Defence of Liberty

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This entry was posted on May 16, 2016 by in Local Politics and tagged , , , , , , .
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