Labour has sharply recovered in the opinion polls over the past week – to be level pegging with the Conservatives. Perhaps with the resignation of IDS Labour will nige ahead. Despite this, the main interest in the local elections is likely to be whether Labour does badly enough for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership to be in question. The two big potential dangers would be if Labour polled fewer votes than the Conservatives in Scotland and if Sadiq Khan was defeated in the contest for Mayor of London.
Back in 2011, Labour won 15 constituency seats in Scotland. It seemed like a bad result at the time. However, in the General Election last year they only won one.
The next big measure would be the result in Wales. In the 2011 elections, Labour won 30 out of 60 seats. So that is technically a minority Government but in practice Labour have been able to govern on their own. Over the past five years they have done a poor job – most notably in terms of the NHS but also with education, housing, and the level of Council Tax. It was considered quite likely that they would lose seats – even before the Corbyn factor came into play. Thus Labour can expect to be in retreat in both Scotland and Wales compared to the glory days of Ed Miliband. What is hard to envisage is Labour losing power in Wales. Would a Conservative/UKIP/Plaid Cymru/Lib Dem coalition really be plausible?
Away from the headline grabbing, there is the majority of British people who don’t live in London, Scotland or Wales. The Police and Crime Commissioner elections are complicated by the success of independents last time. I have written before about the prospect of Conservative gains and I would still hope and expect to see some.
Then we have the traditional local election results. 2,743 seats are up for election. That is fewer than most years, but enough to represent a widespread electoral verdict. 70 districts, 19 unitaries and 35 metropolitan authorities are up for election but mostly with just a third of their seats. These are mainly the seats last contested in 2012. In that year Labour won 39 per cent of the vote (extrapolated into a national vote share) the Conservatives won 33 per cent. So even if the two parties are level pegging this year then Labour will still face losses of around 200 seats.
Such a figure would be shrugged off. But it shouldn’t be. There is some expectation management in all this. The estimates range across how many seats Labour will lose. But any net losses for Labour would be a pretty poor performance. For the main opposition party to face the prospect of losing council seats is exceptional apart from in a General Election year. Labour lost seats in 1982. They also made losses in 1985 – but that year they had the comfort that the Conservatives lost rather more. It was a good year for the SDP/Liberal Alliance.
This year surely the Lib Dems can only recover from their recent low base – thus hitting both the Conservatives and Labour to at least some extent.
In Bristol, Liverpool and Salford there will be contests for directly elected Mayors.
Potential Conservative targets include areas where we are already in power – either in coalition or a minority administration – but without an overall majority. Peterborough would be an obvious example. Calderdale and Walsall would be rather ambitious ones. There is the complication that the Conservatives might make gains from Labour but then losses to the Lib Dems. As always UKIP are the joker in the pack. Portsmouth currently has a Conservative/UKIP coalition – that is a city where the Lib Dems will be hoping for an upswing in their fortunes.
Then there are places where we hope to gain from the opposition. Southend-on-Sea should really be a Conservative Council but is currently run by an enemy alliance. The same applies in Stroud. Crawley is among the few district Councils held by Labour – they have 19 seats to the 18 held by the Conservatives. Redditch and Rossendale are other districts narrowly held by Labour.
Plymouth is a hung council – unusually a Conservative/Labour coalition – and will be closely fought. For the Conservatives to gain Southampton direct from Labour would be a great prize.
Also Labour may lose control of Dudley but without the Conservatives gaining it due to a UKIP contingent. In Milton Keynes there is a minority Labour Council – and the large Lib Dem faction makes it appear unlikely that any party will gain overall control this time.
Of course my hope and expectation is that the Conservatives will gain rather than lose territory. However on a bad night both Castle Point and Trafford would be at risk.