ANALYSIS  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Greens take three seats from Labour so Progressive Group replaces Conservatives as official opposition

Conservative loss in Topsham among significant vote share changes in 2022 Exeter City Council elections suggesting city's political landscape in flux.

Exeter city council  Local elections 

Exeter Green Party has taken three seats from Labour in the 2022 city council elections, reducing the ruling party majority as its eleventh year in power begins.

The Conservative Party lost Topsham to Labour despite possessing a 23% vote share majority after increasing its share in the previous two elections. Newly-elected Labour councillor Joshua Ellis-Jones won by more than 250 votes, to the surprise of all involved.

The Labour gain offset the party’s losses to the Greens to leave it with a reduced majority of thirteen seats.

Liberal Democrat Kevin Mitchell held his Duryard & St James seat, increasing the party vote share by more than 10% to frustrate Labour hopes of repeating its 2021 victory in the ward.

The Green Party now holds the same number of seats on the council as the Conservatives.

The Progressive Group, formed by the Greens, Liberal Democrats and Independent Jemima Moore in 2019, has replaced the Conservatives as the official opposition on the city council.

Tess Read won in St David’s for the Green Party, increasing its majority in the ward, which has now elected three Green councillors in three years.

St David’s, which covers most of the city centre and is witness to extremes of wealth with poverty, has borne the brunt of a range of unpopular council policies.

These include allowing unbridled university expansion to affect housing availability and affordability and promoting city centre vehicle use despite air quality and public realm impacts.

The ward is also at the centre of the council’s controversial Liveable Exeter property development scheme.

Both Catherine Rees and Carol Bennett won for the Greens in Heavitree, which elected two councillors following the resignation of Labour’s Chris Buswell.

It was the city’s closest contest in 2021, when Catherine Rees lost by just sixteen votes.

This year both polled 200 votes more than the third-place Labour candidate.

Turnout in the ward was again highest in the city, at 47%, nearly 17% greater than in Labour stronghold Mincinglake & Whipton.

Labour’s Matt Vizard, who had appeared vulnerable in Newtown & St Leonard’s after the Green Party came close to ousting incumbent Richard Branston last year, slightly increased his party’s majority to hold on to the seat.

There were much larger vote share changes elsewhere in the city, with big swings both for and against Labour as well as the 10% Duryard & St James vote share change that meant Kevin Mitchell kept his seat.

Naima Allock consolidated her 2021 election victory in Mincinglake & Whipton by increasing her party’s vote share by more than 16% to the highest in the city at nearly 62%, 800 votes ahead of the Conservative in second place.

But deputy council leader Laura Wright came close to losing in St Thomas, where she was defending the largest Labour majority in the city, when Liberal Democrat Adrian Fullam increased his party’s vote share by nearly 15% to come within 44 votes of unseating her.

And while Labour increased its vote share in Exwick, also electing two councillors following a Labour resignation, ex-deputy council leader Rachel Sutton, who was first elected in 2010 and is executive member with responsibility for Exeter decarbonisation, will only serve a one year term after coming second in the ballot behind newcomer Paul Knott.

She will have to stand again next year if she wants to stay on the council.

It isn’t clear whether this result is a reflection of her constituent’s views of the council’s net zero policies or simply a consequence of her name appearing at the bottom of ballot papers which present candidates in alphabetical surname order.

In Priory Labour incumbent Tony Wardle, who has been on the council for fourteen years, also came second.

He was beaten by party colleague Marina Asvachin, who is also county councillor for Wonford & St Loye’s.

Her name appeared first and his last on the ballot papers. She has been elected for a four year term, he for two years.

There were also vote share swings against the Conservatives of more than 9% in Alphington, Heavitree and St Thomas, nearly 10% in Pennsylvania and nearly 13% in Exwick and Topsham.

Despite these, the party still received 23% of the ballots cast, just over half Labour’s nearly 46%. Labour nevertheless won twelve seats and the Conservatives just one.

The Greens received a slightly lower ballot share than the Conservatives yet won three seats, and the Liberal Democrat’s 13% ballot share was 10% less than the Conservative’s but the two parties both won a single seat.

Other vote share swings across the city significantly favoured the Greens, Labour and the Liberal Democrats in ways that are not reflected in the results, as well as in ways which are.

Notwithstanding the extent to which the First Past the Post electoral system encourages electoral strategies which amplify such effects, this year’s Exeter local election results suggest the city’s political landscape is in flux, with more change to come.

Methodology note

Exeter City Council elections in wards in which more than one seat is being elected are held using the multiple non-transferable vote system.

In such wards each voter is allowed to cast up to the number of votes which equals the number of seats being elected.

These votes are not ranked in any order of preference.

In such circumstances, because not all voters cast all of their votes, and because previous ward elections typically involve only a single seat, comparing vote shares over time is misleading.

In 2016 all the council’s seats were exceptionally elected at the same time, following boundary changes. Then in Priory in 2019 and in Mincinglake & Whipton last year voters were invited to cast up to two votes to elect two councillors at the same time.

This year four wards elected two councillors, with voters in Exwick, Heavitree, Pennsylvania and Priory each allowed to cast up to two votes.

Comparing party performance in Exeter City Council elections over time is further complicated because not all the main parties stand candidates in all wards at every election.

In particular, the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats stood aside for each other in six wards last year, after the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats stood aside for independent candidate Jemima Moore in Newtown & St Leonard’s in 2019.

In wards electing more than one councillor we therefore calculate a proportional share of the ballots cast for the leading candidate in each party to compare party support between each year and the preceding year or years in which they stood at least one candidate in that ward.

We believe this is the best way to make statistically meaningful comparisons between the major parties in the city.

The chart above compares this ballot share approach with a similar approach which also factors in the size of the electorate each year, and the more typical all votes share approach which produces results whose accuracy fluctuates as a function of the number of wards in which more than one councillor being elected.

As three councillors were elected in each of thirteen wards in 2016, then one each in 2018, then more than one each in 2019, 2021 and 2022, the all votes share has been equal to the ballot share in only one of the past five elections.

Candidates from other parties, as well as independent candidates, have also stood in each of these elections.

UKIP contested most, but not all, of the city’s wards in 2016 and again in 2019, but not in 2018. The Women’s Equality Party also stood in Duryard & St James in 2018, 2019 and 2021. And an independent candidate stood in St Thomas this year and in the previous two years.

These candidates are grouped together to simplify comparison. Where more than one non-major party stands in a multiple non-transferable vote election the best performing candidate is included in the analysis.

Mid-year by-elections are excluded altogether.


 is editor of Exeter Observer and a director of its publisher Exeter Observer Limited.

Exeter in brief
Exeter in brief

Royal College of Nursing staff at the ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST have resumed strike action alongside South Western Ambulance Service workers as healthcare professionals across the country stage the biggest strike in NHS history.

Detailed plans for the Honiton Road MOOR EXCHANGE RETAIL PARK have been submitted for approval. Outline planning permission for the development was granted two years ago.

The police inspectorate says DEVON AND CORNWALL POLICE must make urgent improvements after it was found to be inadequate in three of nine areas including responding to emergency and non-emergency calls and managing registered sexual and violent offenders.
Its assessment found two other areas required improvement while two more were graded “good”. A new chief constable was appointed in December after the force was placed under enhanced inspectorate monitoring last year.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is consulting on its draft Exeter Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan, which is already nearly six years late, until the end of March.

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER staff have resumed strike action over pay, pensions and working conditions alongside Exeter school teaching staff with dozens more strike days planned during February and March.

EXETER CITY FUTURES published the agenda for its last board meeting on 30 January, two months after the meeting was held. It says it is “committed to being completely transparent and open about the things that are discussed at board meetings”. No minutes were included.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is not making sufficient progress with its children’s services since they were judged inadequate in January 2020 according to the latest Ofsted monitoring report which found that key areas still require significant change and serious issues remain.

The UNIVERSITY OF EXETER has submitted detailed plans for its 1,700 bed West Park redevelopment of 50,000m2 of student accommodation.

Royal College of Nursing staff at the ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST have resumed strike action alongside South Western Ambulance Service workers as healthcare professionals across the country stage the biggest strike in NHS history.

Detailed plans for the Honiton Road MOOR EXCHANGE RETAIL PARK have been submitted for approval. Outline planning permission for the development was granted two years ago.

The police inspectorate says DEVON AND CORNWALL POLICE must make urgent improvements after it was found to be inadequate in three of nine areas including responding to emergency and non-emergency calls and managing registered sexual and violent offenders.
Its assessment found two other areas required improvement while two more were graded “good”. A new chief constable was appointed in December after the force was placed under enhanced inspectorate monitoring last year.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is consulting on its draft Exeter Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan, which is already nearly six years late, until the end of March.

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER staff have resumed strike action over pay, pensions and working conditions alongside Exeter school teaching staff with dozens more strike days planned during February and March.

EXETER CITY FUTURES published the agenda for its last board meeting on 30 January, two months after the meeting was held. It says it is “committed to being completely transparent and open about the things that are discussed at board meetings”. No minutes were included.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is not making sufficient progress with its children’s services since they were judged inadequate in January 2020 according to the latest Ofsted monitoring report which found that key areas still require significant change and serious issues remain.

The UNIVERSITY OF EXETER has submitted detailed plans for its 1,700 bed West Park redevelopment of 50,000m2 of student accommodation.

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