London is likely to be most interesting battleground for local elections this year. Certainly for me personally as I am hoping the citizens of the Ravenscourt Park Ward in Hammersmith and Fulham renew their trust in me for a further four years. But also more generally London will be the focus as while the Conservatives did very well last time we still only control half the London boroughs – so there is potential for advance. Also our arrangement here in London is that all the seats come up for election at once. I have speculated on what potential advances we might hope for here.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have no local elections this year. But what of the rest of the England?
There are a third of seats up for election in 19 unitary authorities, 31 metropolitan boroughs and 71 districts. Another seven districts have half their seats up for election.
In terms of gaining lots more councils there is a problem of success. The Conservatives are already the dominant party of local government. However there are some important contests where the Conservatives are currently a minority administration – Coventry where we have a casting vote, Birmingham where we have to rely heavily on the Lib Dems, Bradford where we are very much a minority administration.
But what about areas where we have no power at all at present? The following are among those to look out for.
With the unitary councils Derby is currently a minority Lib Dem administration and it will be interesting to see if the Conservatives could gain the upper hand. Reading, at present at present a minority Labour administration has been covered here recently.
Milton Keynes is currently a Lib Dem minority administration. The Conservatives are running a lively modern campaign. They say the Lib Dem administration is "tired and have run out of steam." They have just pushed up the Council Tax by 2% for the coming year, with Labour support, from the existing Band D Council Tax of £1,151. This high tax is combined with poor Audit Commission ratings as an inadequate one star Council. Portsmouth will be another council we will be seeing to gain from the Lib Dems. his is the council that spend nearly £1 million a year on newspaper advertising.
Among the metropolitan boroughs Bolton has a minority Labour administration. It has embraced uglinessand neglected its roads. Already over £100 more than Trafford on Band D, the Council Tax has been increased by a further 1.2% although the Conservative opposition have had some success in demanding the redirecting resources to tackling potholes. A Conservative administration would look at the budget again and apply the "cut our cloth" principle. This is the Council that spends money on bubble blowers for the rowdy element on Saturday nights and £440,000 on an art forgery. This also the Council where Labour councillor is allowed to retain the whip despite making crude threats to a council officer.
Among the boroughs and districts Cheltenham has a disastrous Lib Dem administration and half the seats up for election so must surely be likely to fall to he Conservatives. Colchester has a Lib/Lab pact running the show although the Conservatives ae the largest group so this is another obvious target. The current administration have voted through a 2.47% Council Tax rise, rejecting the Conservative proposal for a freeze. The voters will be able to deliver their verdict on which approach they prefer on May 6.
Some might suggest that with the General Election expected on he same day these council contests are less important, that they might even be some kind of distraction from the priority. The reverse seems to me to be the case. Many of the Councils mentioned above contain target Parliamentary seats. Having a cohesive campaign with council candidates and Parliamentary candidates working alongside each other will be critical. The failures of Labour and Lib Dem Councils will assist in Labour and Lib Dem MPs losing their seats.