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Analysis: Inside the election that made national headlines
...and what the results could tell us about the future landscape of local politics.
On 4 May, the doors of polling stations opened for the 2023 local elections. The following morning, the city awoke to results that would later make national headlines. The results would be the latest in a series of shocking announcements that would leave voters in disbelief.
For the first time in recent history, Leicester’s election results would reveal a shift in power which could alter the future of the Labour party locally.
In the lead up to the local elections, the Labour party in Leicester was splashed across multiple national newspapers, reporting that they had deselected 19 Labour councillors, the majority from black, Asian, or minority ethnic backgrounds.
An email from Labour's regional director, Richard Oliver, was sent to local branches in Leicester, stating that the National Executive Committee (NEC) – Labour’s ruling body – had been tasked with selecting the city's candidates over “concerns about the process.”
The councillors were informed that they had been deselected by the NEC just two months before the local election, leaving former councillors feeling abandoned by their party.
Shockwaves through the city before polls opened
The deselection attracted scrutiny from the former councillors, and national and local press for being wholly “undemocratic.” At the time of the deselection, Sharmen Rahman, told The Guardian that more than just her seat had been lost. She described to reporters how she felt “disposable” and recalled the times she had sacrificed seeing her family in order to pursue the ongoing political fight, for the election, on behalf of the party.
“I’ve given up my time with my family to fight for Labour. It feels like despite all the time and energy we’ve put into the party, we’re disposable,” she said. “It is absolutely undemocratic. The grassroots of the party, none of them have had any say in this process.” — Sharmen Rahman
Rahman also hinted that the deselection of predominantly BAME councillors would not go unnoticed in a city in which, 59% of residents are from minority ethnic backgrounds. “It has really sent shock waves through Leicester and especially because this is a majority minority city, to have minority elected representatives treated like this is just going to exacerbate misgivings towards the party.”
Whether political sceptics believed Rahmen’s warning at the time, the election results would soon indicate that her foreshadowing was right and that the deselection did not go unnoticed to voters.
The Labour party lost 22 seats
Clinging to a majority, which the Labour party has notoriously upheld since winning all but one seat in 2019, the party’s success at the local election was overshadowed by one underlying fact: Labour’s majority had slipped, and could it be a direct result of the deselections?
In the space of two months, controversy within the party seeped into the election results, as key wards were lost to the Conservative party. This was shocking in comparison to what was happening on a national level, which saw the Conservative party lose control of 63 councils in 2023. Meanwhile, in Leicester, following the deselections, the Conservative party became the largest opposition by gaining 17 seats. Those seats include Belgrave, Beumont Leys and Rushey Mead.
Conservative seats won by former, deselected Labour councillors
The majority of seats gained by the Conservative party went to former Labour councillors who had been deselected by the NEC two months prior. Paul Westley and Hemant Rae Bhatia, both deselected Labour councillors were successful in gaining seats in Beaumont Leys after deflecting to the Conservative party.
Westley told BBC News that despite being a Labour councillor since 1995, he could no longer represent a party that refused to listen to local people – echoing the message of his former colleague, Sharmen Rahman. The pattern continued as Belgrave became a Conservative majority following the deselection of Nita Solanki, with Rushey Mead following suit following the deselection of Ross Willmott.
Some deselected candidates were also successful in securing seats after deflected to other parties. Patrick Kitterick, secured a seat in the Castle ward representing the Green party. Three seats were secured in total by an overwhelming majority.
Bucking national trends
The 2023 election results will go down in Leicester’s history as one of the most tumultuous elections this city has seen.
Labour’s slip in majority and Conservatives steady foot in opposition means that for the first time in recent history, Leicester could be heading towards a “no overall control” (NOC) – where no single party can form a majority or form a coalition.
However, that scenario is just one we could see play out in the 2027 elections or further into the future. If a NOC council were to emerge in the future, it would buck current national trends of Labour securing majority control of councils across the country.
Nationally, the Labour party holds the greatest share of seats and councils in England, as it gained 537 councillors and 22 councils this year. Meanwhile, the Conservative party lost 1,063 councillors and only retained control of 22% of councils in England.
While we cannot anticipate what the 2027 local elections – or even next year’s general election – will bring, it will be interesting to see if politics within the city continues to bring attention to Leicester.