Rainbow coalitions lock Tories out of power in councils they used to run

Labour has been accused of blocking some deals.

An unprecedented number of rainbow coalitions have excluded the Conservatives from power in a string of councils where they are still the largest party, after May’s local elections.

The Tories lost control of 48 councils across England, and while some other parties secured majorities there are 37 where no party secured overall control, kicking off a frenzy of coalition negotiations.

The Tories are still the largest party in 28 of these hung councils, but have been shut out of power in 14 of them, according to analysis by the PA news agency.

A mixture of formal and informal deals have been established to run these authorities, typically involving a combination of Labour or the Liberal Democrats plus the Greens and independents.

In some cases, such as West Suffolk and West Devon, all four of those groups have come together to form an administration, with the Conservatives the only party in opposition.

Elections graphic
(PA Graphics)

In the remaining 14 councils, the Conservatives have held on to power either in partnership with independent councillors or as a minority administration.

The number of proposed coalitions has taken many central party chiefs by surprise and has brought renewed discussion of a “progressive alliance” between Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens to defeat the Conservatives at the next general election.

The Win As One campaign, formed by left-wing pressure group Compass to promote a progressive alliance, said: “As the dust settles on the 2023 local elections one thing is clear, co-operation is the future of our politics.”

Green co-leader Adrian Ramsay said: “It represents an opportunity for a form of politics that’s more collaborative.”

But coalition negotiations have not all been smooth sailing, with the Labour Party accused of blocking deals in some local authorities.

Labour and Lib Dem
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and LibDem leader Sir Ed Davey, whose parties have not always been able to agree to work together at local level (Richard Pohle/The Times)

While Liberal Democrat and Green councillors are left to agree coalition deals independently, Labour councillors must secure permission from the party’s National Executive Committee before entering into a formal deal.

Joe Harris, leader of the Local Government Association’s Liberal Democrat group, said: “We believe that Lib Dem councillors should be trusted to make their own minds up and we respect the decision our councillors make.

“We have been reaching out to all Lib Dem council groups to advise and support with any possible alliance rather than dictate. It’s the same old Labour, they think they know what is best and don’t trust local democracy.”

Mr Ramsay added: “There have been numerous situations where the local parties have agreed to form a coalition, but that has been overruled by Labour.

“In some cases, that has let the Tories in as a result, which is deeply frustrating and I’m sure isn’t what Labour voters were voting for.”

Lichfield is one council where the Tories remain in power despite a possible Labour-Lib Dem coalition (Morgan Harlow/PA)

These councils include Cherwell, in Oxfordshire, where the Tories are the largest party but could have been outnumbered by a proposed Labour-Lib Dem-Green coalition.

Mr Ramsay said Labour had prevented such a deal going ahead, meaning the Conservatives now form a minority administration.

Lichfield, in the West Midlands, also now has a Conservative minority administration, despite the potential for a Labour-Lib Dem coalition that would have secured a majority of one.

A source close to Labour’s NEC told PA that while the “vast majority” of proposed coalitions had been approved, some had been rejected either because the NEC did not think they would be stable or for disciplinary reasons.

The source said: “Where there’s evidence of pre-election deals, that’s a disciplinary matter because that breaks Clause One.”

Clause One of Labour’s rule book requires party members to “promote the election of Labour Party representatives at all levels of the democratic process”.

Oliver Dowden
Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden’s local council, Hertsmere, fell to a Labour-Lib Dem coalition (Victoria Jones/PA)

The source said Hertsmere Council, where the defeat of the long-standing Conservative administration provided one of the shocks of the election, was one such example.

A Labour-Lib Dem coalition has gone ahead in Hertsmere, but could be cancelled if an internal Labour investigation confirms allegations of a pre-election pact.

The source went on to say that in some cases, Labour groups were looking to make deals with people who had until recently been Labour members, but had either quit or been expelled.

They said: “We just can’t go into coalition with them because that would undermine the independent disciplinary process.”

They added: “People, because they care about their local area, can’t see the bigger picture for the party and we have to be aware of that with antisemitism or the disciplinary process.

“There’s definitely not a kind of top-down, you can’t go into coalition because we don’t want to be seen as a progressive alliance thing.”

(PA Graphics)

While the Conservatives remain the largest party in 28 of the 37 hung councils they used to run, Labour has replaced them as the largest party in two – North West Leicestershire and Staffordshire Moorlands – but remains in opposition in the former thanks to a deal between the Tories, Liberal Democrats and independents.

The Liberal Democrats ended up the largest party in four of the 37 authorities that switched from a Tory majority to being in no overall control, and are in power in all four.

Similarly, the Greens emerged as the largest party in two of the 37 councils and are in power in both.

Mr Ramsay hailed the strong Green performance, which saw the party take overall control of Mid-Suffolk and provide the leader or deputy leader in 15 local authorities.

He said: “It shows that the Green Party has really come of age and really can make a practical difference.”

Some 50 local authorities in England were in no overall control before the elections and remained in no overall control after all the results were in.

In 14 of these councils, the Conservatives ended up the largest party, but have managed to secure power in only three: Herefordshire, Peterborough and Southend-on-Sea.

In the other 11, rival parties have again come together to take power, either in full-blown coalitions or less formal agreements.

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