The election result shows the two emerging faces of urban England

So, that went well. Image: Getty.

The Centre for Cities on the election result.

Though social care, security, and fox hunting were all the big issues of the day, Britain’s cities were a key battleground in the election – yet no party managed to triumph. For both parties, urban voters are still in reach, and how the parties develop policy towards cities over the next period will be critical for the next election.

The first change we noticed is that Labour’s vote surged, seeing an urban swing of 6 per cent compared to 4 per cent nationally. But in individual cities, swings were swung in both directions. Labour’s advance was concentrated in London and the outh, while the Conservatives made gains in cities in the North, the Midlands, and also in Scotland. Leaving aside Scotland, this reflects the emergence of two different urban economies – one open, dynamic, and increasingly Labour, and another that is struggling, frustrated with a lack of order, and increasingly Conservative.

At the last election in 2015, the Conservatives won the majority of the vote in just under half of all English cities, with Labour taking just over half. All Scottish cities were won by the SNP – reflecting opinion in much of the country. But last week the urban map started to change as more English cities voted for Labour, leaving the Conservatives with a majority of the vote in five fewer cities than in 2015.

But interestingly, while more cities particularly in the South have swung towards Labour, the Conservatives gained votes in the North and Midlands.

Cities in the North of England saw a 4 per cent swing from the Conservatives to Labour; those in the South saw a swing of 10 per cent to Labour. Labour actually saw swings against it in some of its urban heartlands, including Stoke, Middlesbrough, and Sheffield. This resulted in Labour’s one loss of the night – Mansfield, on a 17 per cent swing away from Labour to the Conservatives.

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The characteristics of these cities may offer some explanation as to why this election saw a swing toward the Conservatives. Many voted to Leave the European Union, and may be seen as the ‘left behind’ places. While both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn focused on an inclusive rhetoric – for the many not the few; a country that works for everyone – the harder stance on Brexit proposed by the Conservatives, with a promise for restoring jobs from it, may have helped turn the dial towards the right.

That is in contrast to the more prosperous, urban south where a big issue is affordability, specifically in housing. In this election Labour have shown they are not just the party of urban Britain – but a specific kind of urban Britain, increasingly southern, middle class, and potentially relatively highly skilled.

There are exceptions of course – for instance, Basildon swung to the Tories, and York to Labour – but even these outliers prove the broader rule. Labour is making gains in the cities that are successfully responding to economic and social change with more openness, while the Conservatives are advancing in the cities that are seeking a more orderly relationship with these developments.

The picture in Scotland is different with the four cities swinging to the Conservatives rather than to Labour, mostly at the expense of the SNP. This saw the Conservatives achieve a majority of the vote in Aberdeen, part of a return for the party to their historic heartlands in the Borders and North East Scotland, as well as gains in Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. In these three cities though, it is Labour who are in second place to the SNP, and who have seen its vote share stabilise and recover slightly from 2015. Each of the Welsh cities swung to Labour, who picked up support from every party, though again, the cosmopolitan Cardiff saw a much larger Labour swing than the more traditional cities of Swansea and Newport.

Overall, the results in cities reflect the results in Parliament – a stalemate. Yet the swings have shown emergent patterns reflecting two halves of urban England – larger or at least growing cities, or ex-industrial cities where growth is stagnant and skills are low. However policymaking pans out over the next parliament, both of the main parties will need to recognise that there is a distinct split around the country, and politics reflects economics.

All cities need to see parties committing to growing their economies and supporting people into skilled work, and they need to see their place supported when the costs of growth become too high. For the Conservatives, that’s bringing back their traditional middle class supporters by improving housing affordability. For Labour, appreciating how and where local economic gains will be made might stop them losing the urban North altogether.

Anthony Breach is an economic analyst at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this post first appeared. 


More than 830 cities have brought essential services back under public control. Others should follow

A power station near Nottingham: not one owned by Robin Hood Energy, alas, but we couldn't find anything better. Image: Getty.

The wave of cities worldwide rejecting privatization is far bigger and more successful than anyone thought, according to a new report from the Transnational Institute, Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation. Some 835 cities in 45 countries have brought essential services like water, energy and health care back under public control.

The persistent myth that public services are by nature more expensive and less efficient is losing its momentum. Citizens and users do not necessarily have to resign to paying increasingly higher tariffs for lower standard services. The decline of working conditions in public services is not an inevitability.

And the ever larger role private companies have played in public service delivery may at last be waning. The remunicipalisation movement – cities or local authorities reclaiming privatised services or developing new options – demonstrates that cities and citizens are working to protect and reinvent essential services.

The failure of austerity and privatisation to deliver promised improvements and investments is part of the reason this movement has advanced. But the real driver has been a desire to meet goals such as addressing climate change or increasing democratic participation in service provision. Lower costs and tariffs, improved conditions for workers and better service quality are frequently reported following remunicipalisation.  Meanwhile transparency and accountability have also improved.

Where remunicipalisation succeeds, it also tends to inspire other local authorities to make similar moves. Examples are plentiful. Municipalities have joined forces to push for renewable, climate-friendly energy initiatives in countries like Germany. Public water operators in France and Catalonia are sharing resources and expertise, and working together to overcome the challenges they meet.

Outside Europe, experiments in public services are gaining ground too. Delhi set up 1,000 Mohalla (community) clinics across the city in 2015 as a first step to delivering affordable primary health care. Some 110 clinics were working in some of the poorest areas of Delhi as of February 2017. The Delhi government claims that more than 2.6m of its poorest residents have received free quality health care since the clinics were set up.

Local authorities and the public are benefiting from savings too. When the Nottingham City Council found out that many low-income families in the city were struggling to pay their energy bills, they set up a new supply company. The company, Robin Hood Energy, which offers the lowest prices in the UK, has the motto: “No private shareholders. No director bonuses. Just clear transparent pricing.”

Robin Hood Energy has also formed partnerships with other major cities. In 2016, the city of Leeds set up the White Rose Energy municipal company to promote simple no-profit tariffs throughout the Yorkshire and Humberside regions. In 2017, the cities of Bradford and Doncaster agreed to join the White Rose/Robin Hood partnership.

Meanwhile, campaigners with Switched on London are pushing their city to set up a not-for-profit energy company with genuine citizen participation. The motivations in these diverse cities are similar: young municipal companies can simultaneously beat energy poverty and play a key role in achieving a just and renewable energy transition.

Remunicipalised public services often involve new forms of participation for workers and citizens. Remunicipalisation is often a first step towards creating the public services of the future: sustainable and grounded in the local economy. Inspiration can be found in the European towns and villages aiming for 'zero waste' with their remunicipalised waste service, or providing 100 per cent locally-sourced organic food in their remunicipalised school restaurants.

Public services are not good simply because they are not private. Public services must also continuously renew themselves, grow, innovate and recommit to the public they serve.

The push for remunicipalisation in Catalonia, for example, has come from a movement of citizen platforms. For them, a return to public management is not just an end in itself, but a first step towards the democratic management of public services based on ongoing civil participation.

Evidence is building that people are able to reclaim public services and usher in a new generation of public ownership. The momentum is building, as diverse movements and actors join forces to bring positive change in communities around the world.

You can read the Transnational Institute report, “Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation”, on its website.