Wearside’s ruling political group has entered the latest round of local elections at a low ebb, holding 38 out of the council chamber’s 75 seats – a majority of just six.
Four years ago, before votes were counted in the 2018 contest, following the death of long-term council leader Paul Watson, the party had been far more dominant, with 65 councillors.
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But with the standings delicately poised, it raises the prospect of no single party managing to win enough seats to command control of the local authority, paving the way for a potential ‘no overall control’ result after polling stations close at 10pm tonight (Thursday, May 5).
What does ‘no overall control’ mean?
‘No overall control’ simply means no party or political group has enough councillors to govern without the help or support of another.
Sunderland City Council is made up of 75 seats – three for each of the 25 wards which make up the city – meaning at least 38 are needed to hold sole control of the council chamber.
Where does this leave Labour?
Labour currently holds 43 seats, meaning it could afford to suffer a net loss of five but still maintain its grip on power.
The party lost nine seats in the 2021 city poll and 10 in 2020.
However, direct comparisons with previous results are difficult, as Wearside elects a third of its councillors every year for four-year terms, with a pause in the election cycle every fourth year.
What about the other parties?
The Conservatives are the only party with a mathematical chance of taking majority control of the council chamber.
This is unlikely however, as it would require them to double their current tally of 19 councillors.
What would happen if the council did go to ‘no overall control’?
That would depend on final results.
Opposition groups have repeatedly rejected any suggestions of an electoral pact to force Labour from office.
However, it is likely that, should no party have enough seats for a majority, some form of joint administration will be formed.
Hartlepool, for example, saw Labour replaced by a coalition of Conservatives, independent councillors and members of the town’s ‘Independent Union’.
Labour’s loss of control of Durham County Council for the first time in a century last year saw the party replaced by a combined group of Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and independents, with top jobs set to be rotated among the different groups.
Any agreement would also depend on the relative positions of Wearside’s political groups in the wake of results, with Graeme Miller and Antony Mullen, leaders of the Labour and Conservative groups, respectively, both up for re-election this year.
How secure would any joint administration be?
That could depend on how close results are.
Voting in Copt Hill has been delayed following the death of UKIP candidate Reg Coulson, which could throw a spanner in the works when the contest is eventually held.