For the Labour Party to meet expectations in the council elections on May 2nd they need to achieve eight things.
They need to win, with a clear overall majority, the following four councils:
That would get them back to where they were in the 2005 General Election when the Council elections were contested on the same day. Of course they won that General Election with an adequate but non-landslide overall majority of 66.
Labour also need to win the contests for directly elected Mayor in Doncaster and North Tyneside. These should be easy targets if Ed Miliband is destined to be our next Prime Minister. They also need to emerge as the largest party in Cumbria and Warwickshire.
The above would be adequate for Labour: the minimum they should hope to achieve. It would imply gaining around 300 seats – which is what Rallings and Thrasher project fro the Council by-elections.
A good result would be anything beyond this. For instance, for Labour to gain overall control in Cumbria and Warwickshire. Or to become the largest party in Northamptonshire (where they had overall control before 2005). Perhaps to win enough seats in Gloucestershire or Oxfordshire to deny the Conservatives overall control. That type of scenario would be more worrying for the Conservatives – harder to brush off as mid-term apathy or as a protest understandable in the political cycle.
It follows that a bad result for Labour would be if they fail to tick off any of the eight targets specified above.
Whether Labour perform ahead or below expectations will partly depend on minor parties. The dithering of Ed Miliband over issues such as spending cuts and welfare reforms dismays Blairites who would like him to be more supportive. But it also dismays those on the Left who would like him to be clearly opposed. The Green Party may well take more votes from Labour than last time. They have over 900 candidates which I think is slightly up on last time. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition effort is more modest with 120 candidates, but that includes many more than last time.
However, these will probably be minor irritants compared to UKIP. Perhaps UKIP will take far more votes from the Conservatives than from Labour and thus allow Labour windfall gains. My hunch though is that UKIP could end being more of a problem for Labour this time. UKIP will snatch the protest votes that Labour should be expecting. There will also be a chunk of patriotic working class voters in the midlands and in the north who have voted Labour in the past but who will switch to UKIP.