Most councils have now listed the candidates standing for their elections on May 22nd. The most startling aspect is the number of gaps where Lib Dem candidates used to be.

Election analyst Rob Hayward says:

The Lib Dems will be down just short of 500 candidates against 2010. This decline is concentrated, but is by no means exclusively, in London and the Mets. This represents a decline of some 15 per cent against 2010.

Mr Hayward expects the Lib Dems will lose around 300 seats.

There are 4,216 seats up for election. No political party is contesting all of them. Both the Conservatives and Labour will have slightly under 4,000. In Islington the Conservatives are only contesting 31 of the 48 seats. That is disappointing. In Knowsley it is even worse – only eight of the 21 council seats have Conservative candidates.

“One Nation” Labour also has a few no-go areas. Only 12 candidates in Cheltenham where there are 20 seats. Then what about the struggle for socialism in Reigate and Banstead? Labour are only contesting 11 of the 17 seats.

But the Lib Dems – with around 2,730 candidates – are on a different scale of absenteeism.

There are no Lib Dem candidates in Tameside. In Sandwell only four for the 24 seats. In Wigan just one Lib Dem candidate out of 25 seats being contested.

In Craven, Huntingdonshire, Stroud and Halton there are seats with sitting Lib Dem councillors that the party is not contesting.

Liverpool used to be run by the Lib Dems. The Conservatives have a full slate of candidates for the 30 seats up for election – the Lib Dems have only 18.

The Lib Dems also used to run Tower Hamlets Council. The Conservatives have candidates for all 45 seats. The Lib Dems have only 20.

In Enfield the Lib Dems are contesting just eight of the 63 seats. In Harrow the Lib Dems are only contesting 26 of the 63 seats. Newham boasts a full ticket of Conservative candidates for all 60 seats – only 11 of them face Lib Dem opponents. Bexley sees only 15 Lib Dem candidates for the 63 seats. If we cast our minds back to 1994 there was 14 Lib Dem councillors returned in Bexley who than ran the borough in coalition with Labour.

Of course London shows up the Lib Dem struggle to find candidates more than the rest of the country as the capital has all the seats up for election – most of the rest of the country it’s just one slot for each ward. however what these figures don’t show up is something rather more important. In how many seats where the Lib Dems are standing are they just “paper candidates” rather than running any sort of campaign?

Another imponderable will be how the Lib Dem supporters will vote where no Lib Dem candidate is available.

There are around 2,100 UKIP council candidates. Despite the Party’s increasingly left wing rhetoric – in terms of denouncing the free market – it is likely that they will take more votes from the Conservatives than from Labour or the Lib Dems. However Labour have some worries of their own regarding vote splitting.

There are almost as many Green Party candidates – around 1,750. In London the impression I have is that there are more Green Party than UKIP candidates. There are also over 500 candidates for teh far left Trade Union and Socialist Coalition. Labour councils that have kept within the law by implementing budget cuts have found that the agitprop element have become enemies rather than friends. This is perverse in a way given Ed Miliband’s lurch to the left. But it is explicable in terms of local politics. Also in Harrow and Tower hamlets there are effectively rival teams of Labour candidates.

It could well be that the GreenParty/TUSC candidates win fewer votes than UKIP and so represent less of a problem for the Labour than UKIP does for the Conservatives.

Anyway I Martian looking at the tally of council candidates would not conclude we have a three party system. We have two parties (Labour and the Conservatives) contesting nearly all the seats – and another three (Lib Dems, Greens and UKIP) contesting about half of them.