Devon County Council elections analysis: party-by-party breakdown

  Posted: 10.05.21 at 13:28 by Daniel Clark - Local Democracy Reporter

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The Conservatives retained control of Devon County Council last week – but saw their vote share drop and their majority slightly reduce.

Under John Hart’s leadership, they have been in charge of the council since 2009, and Thursday’s local elections saw them stretch that reign until 2025.

Coming into the vote, the Conservatives held 41 of the 60 seats, but they only held on to 39 following the conclusion of the counting on Saturday.

The Liberal Democrats gained three seats to become the official opposition on nine, while Labour gained one seat in Exeter to end on seven.

The Green Party gained a seat in Broadclyst, as well as holding on to Totnes and Dartington, to return two councillors, while three Independents were elected (in Fremington Rural, Otter Valley and Newton Abbot South).

But looking beyond the overall headline figures, who did have the best day, who should be happy with the results, and what does this mean going forward?

The Local Democracy Reporting Service takes a look at the vote shares and how the voting patterns changed to try and answer those questions.

Conservatives win control, but national success not reflected in Devon


Across England, the Conservative Party gained control of 13 extra councils (including Cornwall), and added 235 councillors (a 10 per cent) gain, but while they kept control of Devon County Council, and added 10,000 votes to their 2017 tally, their vote share fell and they ended up with a reduced majority.

Gains were made in Newton Abbot North and Seaton and Colyton (from Lib Dems and East Devon Alliance), while they took back the Bideford West and Hartland seat from Tony Inch – an Independent who was a former Tory but left the party when deselected.

But they lost one of the two seats in Broadclyst, Barnstaple South, Dawlish, Teignmouth and South Brent and Yealmpton – one to the Greens, and four to the Lib Dems, to end the day down on where they began.

Vote share was up in 18 wards where they won, but down in 20 were they held onto seats. Vote share was up in six seats they didn’t win, and vote share was down in 14 seats where they lost.

So while a fourth successive term is the headline story, and with a comfortable, albeit reduced majority, not everything is as positive as it could have been.

Liberal Democrats gained seats, but lost voters


The Liberal Democrats were left pleased with the headline figure from the results – winning nine seats, a gain of three on where they started, including winning back Dawlish and Teignmouth which they lost to the Conservatives in 2017 with popular local candidates.

They also took both Barnstaple seats – one a gain from the Conservatives – as well as taking South Brent and Yealmpton from the Tories, but saw their votes in Newton Abbot collapse, losing both seats.

Overall, their vote share was down four per cent on 2017, and they got 6,000 fewer votes in 2021 than the 2017 election, when there were 15,000 more in total cast this time around

For the Lib Dems, vote share increased in six of the seats they won, and in 11 seats they didn’t win. But in three seats they held, vote share fell, and vote share was down in 32 seats that they didn’t win.

In areas where the Lib Dems were strong and in contention, they had a reasonably successful day, and the gain of three seats put them in a better position on the council, but in large parts of Devon, voters drifted away from them.

Labour’s vote share increases – but not where they are winning


On a difficult day for Labour nationally where they lost 326 councillors and control of eight councils, including Plymouth, the Labour vote in Devon held up, including an increased majority on Exeter City Council, and ending the day with one extra councillor on Devon County Council (winning a seat that they had won before the member became an Independent).

Labour’s vote share was up 0.7 per cent on the 2017 elections, and in more than half of the wards, they gained a higher percentage of the vote that they did last time out – but a closer look at the numbers and things are not quite as rosy.

In the seven seats that they won, only in one of them did their vote share rise from 2017 (Heavitree and Whipton Barton), with the Conservatives and the Green Party respectively gaining ground and narrowing the gap in the other six wards.

And outside of Exeter, Labour only came second in three seats, not within 600 votes in any of those seats, including seeing vote share fall in 17 of the seats that they didn’t win.

Good day for the Greens


Until Saturday morning, it was looking like being a relatively disappointing outcome for the Green party, despite all the gains that they were making, but Henry Gent’s win in Broadclyst where he took a seat from the Conservatives, and topped the poll, making it a successful round of elections for them.

They doubled their vote share from 5.5% to 11% and gained vote share in 41 of the 42 equivalent wards – only Northam where they stood in 2021 and 2017 did their vote share fall.

And with Cllr Gent’s win in Broadclyst, in addition to Jacqi Hodgson convincingly retaining her Totnes and Dartington seat with the second highest individual vote of any single member ward, the Green party now have two councillors on Devon County Council.

The composition of Devon County Council consists of 39 Conservatives, nine Liberal Democrats, seven from Labour, three Independents and two Greens.

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