SOUTH Gloucestershire Council’s ruling Conservatives face a serious fight to stay in power in this year’s local elections, a polling expert predicts.
Independent statistician Nigel Marriott, who is credited with making the most accurate forecast for the last General Election, says the district bucked the national trend in the last local authority elections four years ago – but may not this time.
In 2019 the Tories retained overall control in South Gloucestershire, in contrast to nearby North Somerset and Bath & North East Somerset, where the party lost power to an independent-led coalition and the Liberal Democrats respectively, with the unpopular government of Theresa May blamed.
Mr Marriott, of Bath, has crunched the numbers on how residents in each of the four unitary authority areas in the region have voted at local, general and EU elections since 2009.
He says there are some striking similarities between South Gloucestershire and North Somerset in particular, as well as crucial differences.
Mr Marriott says the outcome this year depends on whether South Gloucestershire is once again apparently immune from national trends, as happened in 2019, or if that result was a one-off.
He said: “South Glos and North Somerset are similar politically, with Tories dominant and having grown their vote share notably since 2009.
“The vote shares are practically identical for South Glos and North Somerset.
“One difference is that North Somerset has been more open to independents, so the advance of independents in 2019 at Tory expense was not completely unexpected.
“South Glos has no history of independents or even minor parties, other than in EU elections.
“It is a solid three-party council and, unless something else is happening on the ground, I think you have to expect it to remain like that at the next election.”
Nationally, the Conservatives are polling at similar levels to May 2019, at around 25%.
Mr Marriott said it was hard to predict whether the Lib Dems or Labour – the second and third biggest party groups respectively – would benefit most in South Gloucestershire.
In May 2019 Labour was polling around 24% nationally, with the Brexit Party on 18%, Lib Dems on 16% and Greens on 7%. The first national YouGov poll of 2023, however, put Labour on 46%, with the Lib Dems on 9%, Greens on 6% and Reform UK on 7%.
Mr Marriott said: “The Tory vote in 2019 in South Glos was very resilient.
“Given the Tories are polling the same level again today as May 2019, if they are still polling 25 per cent come May 2023 then that points to an unchanged Tory vote in the election.
“The question for South Gloucestershire, though, is whether 2019 was the anomaly that corrects itself in 2023 – ie, big losses – or 2019 is the baseline, in which case they could be unchanged.”
The perils of forecasting individual elections are clear – Mr Marriott predicted the Conservatives would win the 2021 Metro Mayor election, which was won by Labour.
Mr Marriott’s blog can be found online at marriott-stats.com/nigels-blog/
By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service