Analysing the Oxford City Council Election Results

OULC member, Eric Sheng, provides a detailed summary of the local election results across the city and suggests what Labour can learn from them. 

A. Summary of results*

Party Seats 2018 (change from 2014) 2016 votes (share) 2018 votes (share) Swing
Labour 18 (+1) 17,965 (47.00%) 18,277 (47.75%) +0.75%
Liberal Democrats 5 (+1) 6,932 (18.14%) 8,892 (23.30%) +5.16%
Green 1 (–2) 6,477 (16.95%) 5,535 (14.50%) –2.45%
Conservative 0 (0) 4,834 (12.65%) 4,938 (12.94%) +0.29%
Other** 0 (0) 2,012 (5.26%) 577 (1.51%) –3.75%
Turnout: 39% 38%

*The Council does not publish total votes by party, share or swing. I have calculated these figures using data for individual wards, available from

**‘Other’ includes only independents in 2018. ‘Other’ includes independents, UKIP, TUSC and the Official Monster Raving Loony Party in 2016, but a large majority of 2016 Other votes were for independents.

B. Let’s try to see what each of the above swings really means by looking more closely at individual wards. (The nature of the swing to Labour will be discussed in considering the others.)

  1. Conservatives. Their vote-share and the distribution of their vote across the city have not undergone notable change.
  2. Other. The reduction in the Other vote is principally because there were no independent candidates, as there were in 2016, in Blackbird Leys and, especially, Marston. (There were also no TUSC or UKIP candidates.) The resulting vote transfer predominantly favoured Labour and the Conservatives.
  3. Greens. The Green vote has declined significantly in most wards where the Greens gained more than 150 votes in 2016. In Carfax and Wolvercote, it has more than halved. So where has the Green vote moved? Labour has benefited somewhat from former Green voters, but the overall figures suggest that the Lib Dems have been the main repository for disaffected Green voters. The Green to Lib Dem transfer is the most substantial vote transfer of this election, suggesting that the Lib Dems have re-established themselves as the main protest vote. In every ward where the Green vote declined significantly, there was an increase in the Lib Dem vote. A particularly clear example is North Ward, where no Green candidate ran this year. In this absence, the Lib Dems increased their vote by about 75 percent whereas Labour increased its vote by only about 7.5 percent. Similarly, in Carfax, the Lib Dems increased their vote by 46 percent, compared with just eight percent for Labour.
  4. Lib Dems. The Lib Dems are the greatest beneficiaries, at least in terms of votes, of this election. They have gained not just from the Greens, however, but also from Labour. In Holywell Ward, for example, in the context of a decline in turnout, the Lib Dems alone increased the absolute size of their vote, an increase that exceeded the entire decline in Green vote; Labour retained the ward by only seven votes, making it the most marginal in the city, and Labour’s vote share declined from 40 to 38 percent. The only ward the Lib Dems gained in this election was Quarry and Risinghurst, which they won from Labour. Here, the Green and Conservative votes remained largely unchanged, while Labour lost and the Lib Dems gained about 120 votes each.

C. The town-gown divides. Thus far I have concentrated on the more dramatic changes of this election. Dramatic changes did not happen everywhere. The degree to which vote transfers have occurred, and the nature of these transfers, mark out roughly three zones in Oxford, which correspond to the broad social divisions of the city, discernible in detail in the profiles of all wards available from

  1. The University core zone covers the three wards in which most Oxford colleges fall: Holywell, Carfax and North. This is where the dramatic changes that I’ve mostly been discussing took place – where the Green vote has declined most precipitously, from a respectable position, and where there has been a significant transfer from the Greens to the Lib Dems, and smaller transfers from the Greens to Labour and from Labour to the Lib Dems.
  2. The non-University zone covers areas in the east of Oxford that are less well-off and that contain fewer students and academic or professional employees of the University of Oxford. Here, the Greens have never had significant support and little changed in the electoral balance this year: the Lib Dems made a little improvement and Labour made moderate gains, largely, it would seem, by improving turnout. The core wards of this zone are Northfield Brook, Blackbird Leys, and Barton and Sandhills.
  3. The University fringe zone covers localities in north Oxford, around the Cowley and Iffley areas, and around Oxford Brookes University. This zone contains Brookes students, some Oxford students, though not as densely as in the central region, and the greatest numbers of academic or professional employees of the two universities. It is here that the Lib Dems have been strongest. In this year’s election, two characteristics stand out. The first is that the Lib Dems have increased their vote share in all the wards that they hold, and improved their performance elsewhere too. Most notably, in St Margaret’s, the Lib Dems led Labour, the Tories, and the Greens 592-396-338-240 respectively in 2016, but 979-291-267-81 this year. The second is that, in much of this zone, the Green vote was relatively resilient. It remained steady in Iffley Fields and even slightly increased in Rose Hill and Iffley, where the vote transfer took place instead from Labour, who lost about 200 votes, to the Lib Dems, who gained about 150. (The Green vote also increased slightly in Jericho and Osney, though here the absence of a Lib Dem candidate complicates matters.) Residents in the University fringe zone, it seems, have not become as disillusioned with the Greens as students in the city centre have.

D. The above discussion suggests that it is important for Labour to find out what is motivating, in particular, students and others associated with the two universities to turn to the Lib Dems, because their resurgence is not merely due to the decline of the Green vote. Brexit, I suspect, might have much to do with the Lib Dem resurgence in Oxford; so might the homelessness situation, which the Lib Dems have exploited extensively in their electioneering. Moreover, the Green to Lib Dem transfer may well have been indirect: in last year’s general election, the Green vote collapsed in Labour’s favour, so it might well be that there were a Green to Labour transfer and a Labour to Lib Dem transfer involving different voters. In that case, even the part of the Lib Dem increase corresponding in quantity to the Green decline would in fact be Labour losses, and it would be even more important to understand and find ways of resisting the Lib Dem temptation.

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