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Analysis of elections results following local elections for councils across Kent

As results come in from across the county, following last night’s dramatic win for Labour in Medway, we can begin to tease out conclusions from yesterday’s local elections.

Here political editor Paul Francis gives his analysis of the results, and looks at the big questions raised by yesterday’s poll.

You can follow our live blog as the results come in.

What we have learned from the election results so far?

Labour took control of Medway Council after a historic night at the 2023 local elections
Labour took control of Medway Council after a historic night at the 2023 local elections

It's all about housing. It hardly needs saying but if there was one issue that the Conservatives suffered a backlash over, it was housing development. The lack of confidence in the government’s position and a perception that ministers have simply failed to recognise the strength of opposition all counted badly for the party.

The government’s own recent U-turn and a pledge that it would abandon top-down targets seem not to have cut through with voters. Unless it comes up with a way of convincing voters that it is on their side and not the developers, it will continue to be a fault-line for the Conservatives.

Do early victories point to Labour success at a general election?

On paper, Labour pulled off a remarkable victory in Medway but against a weakened opposition on a losing run of form. The win was comprehensive and gave the party a margin of victory that should be a good position from which to launch a general election campaign next year.

Voters across Kent went to the polls yesterday
Voters across Kent went to the polls yesterday

But the political landscape is not the same as it was in 1997, when Labour trounced the Conservatives under the leadership of Tony Blair. Labour went into that election campaign with a poll lead around 20% and an opposition that was mired in ‘sleaze’ allegations and at war over Europe. The Conservative party under Rishi Sunak is not the same as the Conservatives under John Major, whose leadership was seen as weak and divisive.

Does turnout point to public apathy?

There is one figure that should worry all the parties, namely the turnout. It still is the case that the numbers of voters who bother to take a walk to the polling station is stubbornly low, averaging around the 30% mark.

Take the ward represented by the new Labour leader of Medway Council Vince Maple where the turnout was 20.9%. These catastrophically low figures are not new and on a par with turnouts at other council elections. And it leaves open the question of whether or not they have a genuine mandate to pursue their policy platform.

What does the surge in support for the Green Party mean?

It means on one level that it has shed its reputation among some that its policy platform has been, well, slightly wacky.

But its advances in the elections at the expense of not just the Conservatives but Labour confounded those who have regarded them as a flash in the pan party.

Some of the green success will be related to the issue of climate change and carbon net zero targets rising up the political agenda.

But the results speak for themselves and show the party has retained its momentum since scoring its first breakthrough in 2015 when it returned Martin Whybrow as its first ever Green Party county councillor.

The party is now on course to have the largest number on Folkestone council - quite a turnaround.

The challenge for the other parties is that voters will sniff out imitation politics and ask themselves why opt for something inferior when you can have the real thing.

Can the Conservatives recover from this setback?

Of course. But will it be in time for the next general election? The party has been stabilised by the leadership of Rishi Sunak but that is only half the battle.

It has to find a way to offer a compelling vision that goes beyond simply balancing the books and vague promises about tax cuts.

It needs to set out plans on how it will tackle thorny issues such as how people will pay for social care - of particular interest in a county like Kent, where the social demographics indicate and upward trend in those needing support.

Whenever a party suffers such a drubbing, it is inevitable that it will go into a period of naval gazing. But time is not on its side to engage in such prolonged examination.

Will we see more rainbow coalitions running our councils?

It is possible but we are in early stages of digesting a dramatic day in politics so do not expect anything to happen overnight.

However the model has already been adopted in two areas - Swale and Tunbridge Wells - and those arrangements have broadly held the partnerships together. Folkestone and Hythe council is an obvious possibility and talks will get underway this weekend between all parties - with the exception of the Conservatives.

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