As the dust settles on the 2023 local elections one thing is clear: cooperation is the future of our politics.
It wasn’t that either Labour, the Lib Dems or the Greens did well: it’s that we all did well. Over 60 percent of the vote went to progressives. The Tories were left with just 29%.
Where progressives win, they’re working together. Local politicians, organisers and voters are well ahead of party leaders on this and are practising the politics of cooperation by campaigning and voting tactically.
This year the work of Compass organisers paid off in a big way.
In Canterbury, the Conservatives have controlled the council for the past twenty years. This year, Labour and the Liberal Democrats joined forces to run the council, and have already published their plan for a ‘new city vision’.
Our local group there ran a tactical voting campaign, with progressive wins in every ward. In the wards where there were multiple seats up for election and recommendations voting for two parties made, 2 of the recommended candidates didn’t win. The other 11 recommendations helped elect their new council with the Conservatives losing 15 seats.
Graham in Canterbury, celebrating on the day of the election, said: “Even before these local elections, it was clear Canterbury was no longer a Tory area – at the last council elections they only got 35% of the vote. But they won anyway because the progressive vote was divided. This time, that has been reversed and we have a result that better reflects the politics of the area.
“There has been some sensible tactical voting going on and obviously some paper candidates have done less campaigning in areas where they can’t win. All of that has contributed to a change in administration.”
In Oxfordshire, we tested a barnstorm in March to get the campaign kicked off – the first one since 2017 Compass has run.
The local group helped protect the existing alliances and flipped the last Conservative council in the county. Their main activities were a letter writing campaign and series of street stalls in target seats. In Cherwell 11/13 recommended candidates won, and the other two recommendations came a close second place.
In West Oxfordshire 11 councillors won, helped by these efforts, bolstering the rainbow alliance there. This campaign was run with public endorsements from local LD and Green candidates, and the local Lib Dem MP (she sent a letter to target wards without a LD candidate encouraging them to vote Green!).
In Stratford, our local group’s long standing efforts to build alliances, public campaigning on Voter ID and public response to Nadhim Zahawi’s tax scandal earlier this year helped secure a record number of Green councillors and flip a council held by the Tories for 20+ years to Liberal Democrat control.
Vikki in Stratford told us “Under First Past The Post it makes sense to concentrate your resources where you have the best chance of winning. This seems to have been the case here in Stratford.”
Coming into the election, East Hertfordshire District Council had the biggest democratic deficit of all the councils up for election – The Tories won 80% of the seats with just 46% of the popular vote.
In 2015 the Tories won 100% of the seats. In 2019 they won 80% of the seats. Now, only 2 elections on from having 100% of the seats, the Tories hold just over 30% of seats, with the Green and Liberal Democrat groups forming a joint administration.
On North Hertfordshire District Council, the successful Lab-Lib joint administration boosted their vote. Hear more from the leader of their council on our podcast.
In South West Surrey, the coalition running Waverley Borough Council easily held control with their common programme – boosting support for an alliance snapping at the heels of Jeremy Hunt’s seat and all the while, the group is suing the government.
In 2015 10 of 11 District Councils in Surrey were controlled by Tories. We started working there in 2017. Spurred on by work that South West Surrey inspired and under the radar work that Compass has supported (while partnerships are still being negotiated from 2023 results) now only a single Tory majority controlled council in Surrey remains in Reigate and Banstead.
This is from Steve on the ground, proud that “in Runnymede we didn’t stand candidates where either opposition leaders were up for re-election, because we’re all working together to unseat Conservatives. This is the first time since Runnymede was formed in 1974 that it wasn’t led by the Conservatives”.
This year, like every before it, saw too many progressive tragedies. In East Cambridgeshire District Council, in Rochdale, and many more, where we were divided, Tories conquered.
But the worrying recurring and more serious democratic tragedy is happening in discussions to form partnerships and administration where there isn’t overall control. With almost 100 councils electing no single controlling party, this year’s results show decisively that we live in a multi-party reality, it’s just obscured by the outdated system of First Past the Post.
From the grassroots, we work to right the wrongs of First Past the Post, and the tribal party politics of short-term competition it engenders. This work takes many forms – quiet conversations, putting up paper candidates or publicising tactical voting advice. But in too many places, activists are doing this in secret for fear of recriminations from party officials.
Long after the ballots are counted, partnership negotiations to form council administrations continue. Party officials are now blocking local negotiations – sabotaging Labour’s route to local power and allowing Tories to regain councils.
These councils were hard won by progressives – by voters and organisers working to overturn years of entrenched Tory rule. The progressive majority in this country is starting to find its voice.
The leadership should not be stifling what that majority votes for just because it leads to cooperation.
Pluralist, grown-up politics is exactly what our contemporary challenges require – this is the madness of our tribal politics we must break.
Local politicians, organisers and voters are well ahead of party leaders on this and are practising the politics of cooperation by campaigning and voting tactically. While the national picture is relevant, the refusal to share power, accepting only everything or getting nothing, spells trouble for local politics.
As national leaders duck and dither over whether they will do deals, we teamed up with Forward Democracy – who brought us the brilliant StopTheTories tactical vote site – to demand Keir Starmer and Ed Davey catch up with their councillors, activities and voters.
If there is to be no parliamentary majority, then we need to prepare for it now. (There’s plenty of ways to do this, see Minority Report for some of our suggestions). But, even more urgently, Labour’s refusal to share any power is forcing negotiations around the country to grind to a halt – and hands power back to conservative minorities.
This is a choice where we get 80% of what we want, or 100% of what we don’t.