The national equivalent vote is our estimate, based on actual local election results each May, of how the nation might have voted had all electors been eligible to vote on that day. Since 1986 it has appeared in The Sunday Times on the weekend following local elections and is normally based on the patterns of voting across thousands of local wards and change in vote share since the last time those particular seats were contested.
The chart below shows the percentage share of councillors for each party for each year since the major reorganisation of local government in the early 1970s. We use percentages rather than actual numbers because the number of councillors has fallen by about five thousand over the period. One of the most interesting (although largely neglected) stories of the 2015 synchronous local and general elections is that the the two major parties combined currently have the largest proportion of councillors since reorganisation.
Council control tends to be a controversial issue in some quarters. Some argue that the casting vote should be taken into account in the event of ties. Others believe in closely monitoring each and every councillor defection because in some cases that will tip a council from one control condition into another. The Press Association, prior to each May election, prepares a list after first contacting each council and asking them for their current council composition. With around 400 local authorities to monitor this is a tricky and time-consuming business if you let it become that. That said, therefore, these are our own data on council control over four decades – at this level of detail it’s pretty much accurate.
The London boroughs in their current form were established in 1964. The boroughs use a system of ‘all-out’ elections every four years, hence the shapes of the lines. It is only in recent decades that we have up-dated the data in non-election years to take account of seat changes produced from by-elections. As before, we don’t keep track of councillor defections.
The English shire counties too use the method of whole council elections. Over time they have undergone extensive changes as governments moved towards unitary councils rather than the two-tier county/district arrangement. For these reasons the graph should be interpreted with considerable care since the number of county councillors has reduced by about a third since the 1970s and the areas covered by these particular authorities has also changed.
During the 2010-2015 coalition the Liberal Democrats paid a particularly high price in the loss of council seats whereas the Conservatives did not. This graph shows the proportion of local authorities in Britain where each party has zero councillors. The data series begins in 1982 when the Liberal/SDP Alliance began to establish a local government presence. While a large majority of councils currently have a Conservative/Labour presence of some king there are now more than a third where there is no Liberal Democrat representative.