Despite the general revival in Conservative municipal fortunes there are several parts of the country where the Party will be fighting from the demoralising base of having no sitting councillors at all. Of the 32 London borough there are two examples. In Newham a breakthrough looks eminently realistic after the byelection near miss.
What of Islington? Sounds like more of a long shot. The Mayor of London is an Islington resident. Will there be a Boris bounce? Boris got 29.3%of the first preference votes in Islington in 2008 – compared to 17.3% for Steve Norris in 2004. We've got an excellent parliamentary candidate for Islington South called Antonia Cox who used to sit a few desks away from me at the Evening Standard. She has been championing Council leaseholders who have been badly treated by the Lib Dem Council. They can scarcely expect a better deal from an ideologically hostile Labour Party. Taking up their cause will do Antonia's Council candidate colleagues no harm at all.
The best bet could be St Mary's Ward where the Conservatives seem to fighting hard. Perhaps best throw the kitchen sink at that one. On the other hand in Bunhill Ward the results were closer in the Mayoral election with Boris picking up 37% against 41% for Livingstone and in Clerkenwell Ward closer still with Boris on 39% just 3% behind Livingstone. The problem for the Conservatives hitherto has been their supporters feeling the case if hopeless and they might as well vote tactically for the Lib Dems – surely the results for Boris in those wards at least should stiffen the resolve.
One random element is that the Green Party are strong in Islington. Astonishingly they polled more votes in Islington in the Euro Elections last year than the Lib Dems.
Outside London we have among the metropolitan authorities Liverpool, Knowsley, Gateshead, Newcastle and Sheffield – where a third of councillors are up for election and the Town Halls are currently Conservative free zones. Surely we could manage to get a councillor in Sheffield? It was a tough break last time in 2008 local elections getting 21,000 votes but no councillors. The Dore and Totley Ward was pretty close. It comes under the Sheffield Hallam constituency which I see is our 157th target seat and is currently held by the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.
Sheffield is a Lib Dem council but they are more socialist than the Socialists. The Band D Council Tax in Sheffield is £1,455 – the highest in South Yorkshire. The Lib Dems nationally have called for a 25% cut in the pay bill for those on over £100,000. But Clegg doesn't seem to have much luck persuading his own council to adopt this policy where they have six staff on over £100,000. The Council spends £4.8 million on publicity. With half a million budgeted for "community involvement" only a tenth found its way to voluntary organisations – the bulk went on Council staff, focus groups and jargon ridden glossy reports.
William Gladstone believed in low taxation to let "money fructify in the pockets of the people." I doubt these words appear behind the desk of Cllr Paul Scriven, the Council's Liberal Spendocrat leader.
In the district councils the only elections taking place in a Conservative free zone are in Oxford – where half the seats are up for grabs. It is currently a minority Labour administration. The elections two years ago produced several near misses for the Conservatives. Last year Oxford put up the Council Tax by 4.5% and another 2% this year. Oxford Conservatives have highlighted mismanagement of the Covered Market – with huge rent hikes combined with a failure to fox the leaking roof. This is also the City where Labour banned Christmas.