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Opinion

The top 10 councils to keep an eye on as Wales’ local election results are counted

05 May 2022 9 minutes Read
Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford and wife Clare after voting at St Catherine’s Hall, Pontcanna, Cardiff in the local government elections. Picture by Bronwen Weatherby / PA Wire

Ifan Morgan Jones

Local elections don’t tend to inspire as much public interest as Senedd or Westminster elections but councils probably have a bigger direct impact on people’s lives than either of the two parliaments. People may not take much interest in what laws are passed at Westminster but if their bins aren’t collected, their street is full of potholes or a housing estate springs up in the field near their house, they’re going to notice that.

The council elections will also tell us quite a bit about the state of Welsh politics. The big question which will also feed into Westminster politics is whether Labour will see a rebound. They were at a low ebb during the last council elections in 2017 but if they’re serious about regaining power at Westminster today’s local elections should show some evidence of that. That can be hard to gauge in Wales which is a Labour stronghold anyway but you would expect to see them claw some ground back in places like Monmouthshire and Carmarthenshire. After last year’s Senedd elections, Labour expects to do well.

For Plaid Cymru the task will be to retain control in those councils that they currently run alongside a group of independents – Anglesey, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire. If a resurgent Labour make gains in Anglesey and Carmarthenshire in particular there could be a danger for Plaid Cymru of the independents jumping back into bed with them instead.

The Conservatives run five councils in Wales – Monmouthshire where they govern alone, and Powys, Wrexham, Conwy and Denbighshire where they do so alongside a group of independents. There probably isn’t that much scope for gains at this election due to their problems at Westminster. Holding on to overall control of Monmouthshire will be a key aim.

For the Liberal Democrats, it will be all about showing signs of a political comeback after the political desert in which they were left in Wales after losing all their elected members at Westminster and the Senedd. That comeback started last year with the election of a sole Senedd Member, and leader Ed Davey has been visiting Powys where they are the second-largest party. Any comeback is likely to come from those mid-Wales seats. The party now feels that it has disinfected itself after the Westminster coalition years and could be a protest vote for some former Conservative voters fed up after partygate.

Here are some of the key councils to keep a beady eye on:

Carmarthenshire County Hall viewed from across the River Towy. Photo Rhyshuw1, licensed under GNU Free Documentation License.

Carmarthenshire

If a resurgent Labour is going to change the administration of a council anywhere it could be here. Electoral Calculus and Find Out Now have pinpointed this as one of the councils most likely to change hands in the UK, from a Plaid-independent administration to a Labour one. Personally, I think Labour have too high a mountain to climb with only 17 council members to Plaid Cymru’s 37. However, if Labour does manage a good showing it could foreshadow a Labour resurgence in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr at a Westminster election.

Sign. Raglan. Monmouth (CC0)

Monmouthshire

This is the only council where the result might play directly into wider-UK narratives as the electoral pendulum swings from the Conservatives to Labour. The Conservatives hold just over half the seats – 25 out of 43. If they lose overall control of this council it might be the sort of thing mentioned on the pan-UK news as indicative of this having been a bad night for them.

There have been quite a few changes to boundaries here so that will likely lead to some electoral churn whatever the voters decide.

The Principality Stadium in Cardiff

Cardiff

This is a key council for Labour, not just because of its symbolic importance as Wales’ capital, but it’s also as somewhere where the party will hope to defend its slim majority. The number of councillors is being increased slightly from 75 to 79, which might make the outcome more unpredictable. As a large council with a lot of demographic and economic variety, it can be hard to treat Cardiff as a single political unit, which is why there’s a more granular breakdown for you to read here.

There are no lack of challengers lining up to take a shot at Labour. Plaid Cymru and the Greens have teamed up here into a Progressive Alliance and will be hoping to snatch a few seats. How that alliance goes could shape Welsh politics across the country, with the potential for Plaid-Green alliances elsewhere.

The Liberal Democrats ran Cardiff Council before Labour did and once again they will be hoping for signs of a renaissance here, particularly in the centre of Cardiff. Meanwhile, the Conservatives will be hoping that their vote holds up in the north of Cardiff which is a key target seat at Westminster and Senedd elections.

Former Senedd Member Neil McEvoy’s post-Plaid national party Propel will also be hoping to finally get off the ground here after disappointing returns for them at last year’s Senedd election. If they don’t manage it at a local level they might just go down as yet another new party that failed to get anywhere.

Wrexham Street, Mold, Flintshire. Picture by Rept0n1x (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Flintshire

This council more than any other – perhaps Wrexham – sums up that ‘Red Wall’ that the Westminster media like going on about. Oddly however despite the Conservatives making great strides here at the 2019 General Election, winning Delyn and coming close in Alyn and Deeside, they have not yet made many advances at a local level. The party won only six council seats in 2017 compared with Labour’s 34. Perhaps the moment has passed now due to partygate.

Labour’s strongest challenge might come instead from a large number of disaffected independent candidates which includes a number of former Labour councillors. For its part, Labour will want to remain the largest party and even win a majority, although the total number of seats is being cut from 70 to 67.

Aberdare St, Bridgend. By MRNasher, Public Domain.

Bridgend

Like Flintshire, Bridgend could give us some idea of how the wider Labour v Conservative battle is going. It partly matches up with the Bridgend constituency that Labour lost to the Conservatives in 2019 but won quite comfortably at last year’s Senedd election. Labour lost their majority here in 2017 and will be very keen to take it back in order to confirm a wider narrative of regaining ground in these areas.

Boats moored in Conwy Harbour. Photo by kitmasterbloke is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Conwy

As at Senedd level, this is an interesting three-way fight between Plaid Cymru, Labour and the Conservatives. Currently, the Conservatives have 14 seats and govern alongside independents, while Plaid Cymru have 10 seats and Labour six. It’s unlikely anyone is going to seize overall control here so it will be down to the large group of independents to decide who they want to govern with. A drop off in Conservative support here might give us some idea how the wind is blowing for them at a Senedd and Westminster level, as the council overlaps with two Conservative Westminster and Senedd seats – Aberconwy and Clwyd West.

SE boundary sign for Blaenau Gwent north of Hollybush. © Copyright Jaggery and licensed for reuse (CC 2.0)

Blaenau Gwent

Blaenau Gwent should really be a Labour stronghold at all levels, yet at all levels they have had trouble not from any other party but from independent candidates. The council here has been run by a group of Independent councillors since 2017, some of whom used to be in the Labour Party. They currently have 29 seats to Labour’s 13. Labour will be very keen to take back control and might be helped by a reduction in the number of seats from 42 to 33.

Copyright Kev Griffin and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.(CC BY-SA 2.0).

Merthyr Tydfil

Wales’ smallest local authority in terms of population, this is another council that should be a Labour stronghold but where they have had a great deal of trouble with independents.

Labour will be looking to re-gain after losing control in 2017 as part of a wider drop in support across the country for the party. This again is the kind of council that Labour will want to return to the fold if they are going to point to progress at a pan-Wales and Westminster level.

Menai Bridge Anglesey. Photo by Nick Cozier on Unsplash

Anglesey

Ynys Môn almost seems to be a political microclimate unto itself with a Conservative MP, a Plaid Cymru MS, but Labour being in the mix at both elections. Oddly, the Conservatives have no councillors here but there are a large number of independents which have jumped in and out of bed with Labour and Plaid Cymru over the years. The Welsh Government had to send in a team to run the council for a few years, with the council holding its own stand-alone election in 2013 after the vote was postponed in 2012. Politics here is always quite unpredictable and interesting.

Llyn Efyrnwy in Powys. Picture by Sue Tupling (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Powys

If the Liberal Democrats are going to launch a political comeback in Wales it’s going to be here. Their most recent major scalp as a party came just across the border in the North Shropshire parliamentary by-election. The Lib Dems have had a tough few years electorally but have started to eke out a few wins in previously Tory-held areas as something of an economically and culturally liberal alternative to the Conservatives’ more populist, authoritarian turn. They currently have just one councillor fewer than the 13 Conservative members. The Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey has visited suggesting that, under the radar, this is one local election that is being largely ignored in Wales but might be the subject of considerable interest elsewhere.


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