Which party will come out top in South Glos in May elections? Expert gives his view

by BBC LDRS team and Filtonvoice

The ruling Conservatives running South Gloucestershire Council face a serious fight to stay in power at next May’s local elections, a leading polling expert predicts.

Independent statistician Nigel Marriott, pictured, who is credited with making the most accurate forecast for the last General Election, even beating the exit poll, says the district bucked the trend the last time voters went to the local authority ballot box four years ago.

That result in 2019 saw very little change, with the Conservatives comfortably retaining overall control, which was in stark contrast to both North Somerset and Bath & North East Somerset councils whose Tory majorities were obliterated that same night.

Filton has two South Glos councillors – Conservative Chris Wood and Labour’s Adam Monk.

Both of those former administrations blamed their own party’s unpopular national government at the time for the crushing defeats, which placed North Somerset in the hands of a coalition led by independents and B&NES run by the Lib Dems for the first time.

Mr Marriott, of Bath, has crunched the numbers on how residents in each of the four West of England unitary authority areas have voted at the various 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 some crucial differences, which could point to how the result will go.

But Mr Marriott said the outcome would depend on whether South Gloucestershire was an outlier, apparently immune from national and local trends, as happened in 2019, in which case the Tory vote would hold up, or if that was a one-off and heavy Conservative losses should be expected.

He said: “South Glos and North Somerset are similar politically with Tories dominant and having grown their vote share notably since 2009.

“This differs from B&NES and Bristol where Tory growth has been slower and they are no longer dominant on the councils.

“A particular marker is the EU elections and the Brexit referendum where the election system is different and people are not voting for a government.

“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 the Tory expense was not completely unexpected.

“However, it is worth noting that those Tory defectors in North Somerset still came back to the Conservatives in the General Election.

“South Glos has no history of independents or even minor parties, other than 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.”

He said that if the Tories’ national polling did not recover by the local elections, just five months away, large Tory losses were possible in South Gloucestershire, although it was hard to say whether the Lib Dems or Labour – the second and third biggest party groups respectively – would benefit most.

“Saying that, the Tory vote in 2019 in South Glos was very resilient, unlike the 12-point losses in B&NES and North Somerset,” Mr Marriott said.

He said this large drop in Conservative support almost exactly mirrored national opinion poll data at the time in May 2019, which stood at 25 per cent compared with 37 per cent in May 2015.

Mr Marriott said: “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 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.”

Mr Marriott’s blog is here: https://marriott-stats.com/nigels-blog/