The Lib Dems run about a dozen councils in the United Kingdom – including where they run a minority administration. Following heavy losses in recent years they start from a low base. But given their opinion poll rankings it seems reasonable to expect it too diminish further. Yet the Party is notoriously tenancious for clining on to their local strongholds.
In London they have two boroughs. In Kingston-upon-Thames they run the council with the highest council tax in the capital. It is 50 per cent above average – yet has the highest number of injuries from potholes. Last time, the election was close, returning 26 Lib Dems against 22 Conservatives in this Labour free zone. This must be one of the better prospects for a Conservative gain.
In Sutton the Lib Dems have a bigger majority: 42 Lib Dems to 11 Conservatives. So that would be a tougher target for the Conservatives – especially if the Lib Dems are helped by UKIP candidates splitting the Conservative vote.
Outside London there are few councils with all the seats up for election. However one of them is Three Rivers (a district council which includes Rickmansworth), where there are 28 Lib Dems, 14 Conservatives and and six Labour councillors. The number of seats has been reduced from 48 to 39 which adds a bit of spice to the contest.
Also, another Lib Dem council – Cheltenham – has half the seats up for election. The Lib Dems have 24 seats against 12 for the Conservatives and are defending 13 seats. Last time round they gained four of them from the Conservatives. So even if they lost them back they would hang on, but they couldn’t afford to lose many more.
Among other Lib Dem councils only a third of seats are up for election. In Portsmouth – a unitary authority that the Lib Dems richly deserve to lose – they are defending eight of their 25 seats. The Conservatives are currently on 12. So the Lib Dems would have to lose pretty much all the seats they are contesting – even then they could probably do a deal with the small number of Labour councillors. Thus, despite the Mike Hancock scandal, they are likely to remain in charge.
In Eastleigh and in South Lakeland only a third of the seats are being contested and the Lib Dems start with big majorities.
So Kingston, Three Rivers and Cheltenham look the most promising for the Conservatives. If the opinion polls are any guide our yellow coalition partners would be swept away. My own prediction is that they will lose Kingston but cling on elsewhere. That would offer a cautionary message for those expecting the demise of Lib Dem MPs in the General Election next year – who often represent the same areas.