Election expert Sean Fear offers his predictions for the battles for control of Town Halls taking place in June 2009.

Next year’s local elections are to be held on the same day as the European Parliamentary Elections.  This, along with the political fall out from the current financial crisis, makes them particularly hard to predict.

In this year’s local elections, Labour finished 20% behind the Conservatives in terms of national equivalent vote share.  There are signs, from recent local by-elections, that Labour’s vote share has started to recover slightly, and, typically, local election results in the third year of a Parliament are the worst for the incumbent government.  In all likelihood, next year’s local election results will be less bad for Labour than this year’s were, perhaps showing a Conservative lead of 10-15% in terms of national equivalent vote share.  Unfortunately for Labour, the large majority of these seats were last contested, in 2005, when Labour led the Conservatives by 3%.  Further large seat losses for Labour therefore seem inevitable, and in all likelihood, Labour will no longer be in control of any County Councils.

There are elections in 27 County Councils.  Of these, 19 are controlled by the Conservatives, 4 by Labour, 2 by the Liberal Democrats, and 2 are under no overall control.  Confusingly, 3 County Councils, Cornwall, Wiltshire, and Shropshire, are to become Unitary Councils, with the abolition of District Councils in those counties.  All 3 will face elections next year.  In addition, Bedfordshire County Council, together with the districts of Mid-Bedfordshire and South Bedfordshire is to abolished, and replaced with a Central Bedfordshire Unitary Council, while Bedford Borough is upgraded to Unitary status.  There will also be elections for Bristol City Council, and the Isle of Wight Unitary Council.  Finally, there will be Mayoral elections in Hartlepool and Stoke (unless the Mayoralty is abolished in a referendum to be held shortly).

The Conservatives should retain Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Dorset, East Sussex, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Northamptsonshire, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Surrey, West Sussex, and Worcestershire.  It is quite probable that on some of those authorities, such as Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, and Surrey, Labour will be left without a single councillor.  On others, such as Hertfordshire, Kent, and Leicestershire, their representation could be reduced to low single figures.

In all likelihood, the Conservatives will take outright control of
Warwickshire, and gain Staffordshire, Nottinghamshire, and, greatest
prize of all, Lancashire, from Labour.  They should gain Central
Bedfordshire comfortably, as well as Shropshire and Wiltshire, and
retain the Isle of Wight, once an area of considerable Liberal Democrat

The Liberal Democrats should take Cornwall.  Devon, and Somerset, both
under narrow Liberal Democrat control, will produce extremely tight
contests with the Conservatives.  The Conservatives could hope to
benefit from the fact that Europe will be a much higher profile issue
than usual, but at the same time, may lose votes to UKIP in those two
strongly eurosceptic counties.

For Labour, the prospects are bleak.  They are likely to lose three
County Councils to the Conservatives, and their fourth, Derbyshire, to
No Overall Control.  Overall, they can expect to lose around half of
the seats they are defending.  The only crumb of comfort is that they
should retain the Stoke Mayoralty, if the election goes ahead, although
the BNP are likely to finish a strong second in that contest.

Cumbria, currently controlled by a Conservative/Liberal Democrat
administration, is likely to remain under No Overall Control, with the
Conservatives becoming the largest single party.  The Conservatives
should also become the largest party in Derbyshire, although it is
unlikely they could win outright.  Bedford, which has an executive
Mayor, will remain under No Overall Control, as will Bristol.  Stuart
Drummond should be re-elected as Mayor of Hartlepool.

Among the minor parties, the Greens may gain a handful of seats,
particularly in Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Gloucestershire.  UKIP
should get a boost from the fact that the European elections will be
held on the same day, and may well pick up a few seats in the South
West, and one or two in Staffordshire.  The BNP are also likely to poll
well, in some parts of Derbyshire, Lancashire, Warwickshire, and
Leicestershire, where they hold District council seats, and gain their
first County Councillors.

In all likelihood, 2009 represents the high-water mark for Conservative
representation in local government.  Assuming that the next election is
held in 2010, and that the Conservatives win it, the party is likely to
on the defensive, when it comes to fighting local elections, as
incumbent governments tend to be.

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