Six key battlegrounds at the 2024 local elections

The local elections on May 2 will be the biggest test of political opinion in England ahead of the next general election, with around 2,600 council seats up for grabs across 107 authorities.

Many of the 2,600 seats up for election on Thursday were last fought in 2021, a year in which the Conservative Party — under a newly ascendant Boris Johnson — did particularly well. At the time, Savanta polling placed the Conservatives on 42 per cent and Labour on 34 per cent. Consequently, Johnson’s party gained a net 235 councillors and a net 13 councils, whilst Labour lost a net 327 councillors and lost control of a net 8 councils. 

But two prime ministers later, and Savanta’s data displays the depths the Conservatives have since plunged. Today, Rishi Sunak’s party polls at 25 per cent, with Labour on 43 per cent.

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The prevalent political trends in 2024 would suggest that the loss of Conservative councillors en masse is inevitable. To take a broader view, in 1979, 1997 and 2010 — the previous three transitions of power at Westminster — the party approaching power made significant gains at the lead-in local elections. 

Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, both local election gurus, wrote for the Local Government Chronicle last month that the Conservative Party could lose 500 seats if it repeats its poor 2023 local election performance — when its national vote share fell below 30 per cent.

On the other hand, Keir Starmer’s team will be hoping for a result that matches, and even outperforms, Labour’s 1996 local elections showing — when the party garnered a vote share of 43 per cent. Then, John Major’s Conservative Party lost 607 seats. 

And with the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party also battling to make their mark ahead of the general election later this year, has broken down some of the key races to keep tabs on…


Following boundary changes, every council seat in Dudley in the West Midlands is up for grabs — and Labour could become the largest party if the Conservatives, who currently have a majority, do especially badly.

Dudley, an area that strongly backed Brexit in 2016, has been controlled by the Conservatives for 15 of the past 20 years; and last year’s election saw Labour fail to make any inroads into the party’s comfortable majority. In the 2023 local elections, Labour gained just two seats (with 25 seats up for election), leading the Conservative leader of the council to remark: “If Labour can’t hurt us now, when can they?”

Currently, the Conservative group has a majority of 10 on the council.

Tellingly perhaps, Dudley was where Keir Starmer launched his party’s local elections campaign in March. “The path to changing Britain, to national renewal – starts and begins here”, the Labour leader told his launch event. 

He added: “We’re looking to win in Dudley, looking to win in the West Midlands, right across the country: from Hastings to Hartlepool, a changed Labour Party. On the march, on your side, returned to the service of working people”.

The race for Dudley council features alongside the wider West Midlands mayoral contest, in which high-profile Conservative mayor Andy Street is seeking re-election. If Labour can sweep up Dudley and unseat Street as West Midlands mayor, it would be a prominent sign that Starmer is on course for No 10 in the general election later this year. 

Starmer may have to wait for any positive news, however. Due to the large number of candidates this year, vote counting will not begin until the morning of May 3 (usually Dudley only elects a third of councillors at a time). 


Dorset in south-west England also has every seat up for election and is a key “Blue Wall” battleground. The council is currently controlled by the Conservatives by a slim majority, but the Liberal Democrats are now aiming to become the largest party. 

For Sir Ed Davey’s party, Dorset is the biggest prize in the local elections. The Lib Dems held their most recent party conference on the Dorset coast in September 2023, and progress here on May 2 could provide evidence of a broader comeback in the south west.

At the last time elections were held in Dorset in 2019 — the inaugural elections for the unitary authority — the Conservatives won 43 of 82 seats. The Lib Dems won 27, Greens, five, and Labour, two. On a campaign stop in Dorset last month, Sir Ed insisted to ITV West County that it is “very much a two-horse race” between the Conservatives and Lib Dems in the area.

In Dorset, several Conservative candidates have rebranded to “Local Conservatives” — a gambit designed to create some distance from the party’s problems at Westminster.

The three parliamentary constituencies in the area are held by Conservative MPs with large majorities, such as Chris Loder in West Dorset. Loder won a majority of more than 14,000 in 2019. If the Lib Dems seize Dorset on May 2, however, Loder and many of his south west Conservative colleagues could be at risk in the general election. 

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The local elections in Bristol on May 2 are the most significant for some time, as the city moves to a new way of governing that will see the mayor replaced by a committee system. It follows a landmark referendum in 2022 where residents voted to scrap the position of a directly elected mayor. 

It means the Green Party is far more likely to be in positions of power after the elections. The party currently has the most councillors with 25, but has been excluded from the cabinet because there is no obligation for the outgoing mayor, Labour’s Marvin Rees, to include them.

At the 2021 elections in Bristol, the Greens secured 24 seats — making them the joint biggest party with Labour. But the party has since won an extra seat, besting Labour in a tight by-election last year. It means the Greens are already the largest party in Bristol, holding 25 seats to Labour’s 23. For a party to automatically lead the council though, it must win a majority of 36.

On May 2, the Greens will hope that taking overall control will put them in position to win a second parliamentary seat. At the next general election, Bristol Central is the Greens’ top Westminster target seat, with party co-leader Carla Denyer hoping to unseat shadow cabinet member Thangam Debbonaire. 

More broadly, the Greens gaining control in Bristol would also be a sign that Keir Starmer is exposed electorally on his left flank — with progressive voters having become disillusioned with Labour’s shift to the centre and stance on the conflict in Gaza.

In the local elections last year, the Greens won its first-ever overall majority in Mid Suffolk.

The slow march of the Greens: Might 2024 establish a springboard for later success?


Hartlepool in County Durham has a third of its seats up for grabs on May 2 and is a key Labour target. The party is very close to an overall majority in the area, with the council currently being run by a coalition of Conservatives and independents.

Progress in Hartlepool would also have a clear symbolic quality for Keir Starmer’s party. The loss of Hartlepool’s parliamentary seat to the Conservatives in the 2021 by-election triggered the worst crisis of Starmer’s leadership. The “Red Wall” seat had previously been held by Labour since 1964, including by key New Labour figure Peter Mandelson, before Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer triumphed in 2021. 

Since 2019, Hartlepool Borough Council has been in no overall control. But this time around, Labour needs only two more seats to put them in full control. The council, simply, is a must-win if Starmer is to prove once again that his party is back in its former heartlands.


Labour became the largest party on Bolton council after last year’s local elections, but just missed out on overall control. The current make-up of the council is 28 Labour councillors, 15 Conservatives, seven Liberal Democrats and a further nine councillors representing two separate local parties. 

This time around, a total of 118 candidates are standing for election in each of the 20 wards which make up the town on May 2.

This is also an area where Reform UK is standing candidates. The party will hope that a strong showing here can make up for the fact it is only competing in one in seven council seats nationally.

The Bolton council area covers three parliamentary constituencies, two of which are currently held by the Conservatives and one that is held by Labour. Starmer, again, will want to use success on May 2 as a springboard for the general election in a classic bellwether region. 


Wokingham has had its political map redrawn ahead of the local elections this week by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England.

It means, while typically a third of the representatives on Wokingham Borough Council are voted for in an annual election cycle, this year the whole council will be up for election with 54 seats available.

At the 2022 local elections, the Conservatives lost control of Wokingham Borough Council after two decades in charge. Then, the Conservatives lost five seats, the Liberal Democrats won nine, and the Labour Party picked up one.

This time around, the Liberal Democrats will hope to take full control of Wokingham and show they are serious rivals for the Conservatives across the “Blue Wall”. 

Success here for Sir Ed Davey’s party would also be a sign that Sir John Redwood, a former Conservative cabinet minister, could be at risk of losing his seat at the general election.

Josh Self is Editor of, follow him on X/Twitter here. is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.

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