Opinion polls have been devastating for Labour recently. The Council by-election results have been a bit more mixed – although pretty discouraging for the Party overall. So while it is safe to predict net Labour losses in the local elections next week the extent of those losses will be the interesting story.
I expect the front pages to be adorned by Andy Street with a broad grin on his face, the newly elected Conservative West Midlands Mayor. Under normal circumstances such a prediction would be far-fetched. Consider the territory the area covers. In Birmingham, there are twice as many Labour councillors as the combined tally for the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. Coventry has 39 Labour councillors against 15 Conservatives. Wolverhampton had a strong Conservative presence in the past (some might remember a Tory MP there called Enoch Powell). But it is now Labour dominated – both at Parliamentary and municipal level. Sandwell does not have a single Conservative councillor. Walsall and Dudley are more closely fought and Solihull is Conservative. But overall it looks difficult for us.
Street is campaigning with great zeal – as those who follow him on Twitter will know. His business credentials as the former Managing Director of John Lewis are impressive. These personal credentials may well prompt people to give themselves permission to vote Conservative who would not normally do so. These contests for directly elected Mayor are (reasonably enough) often regarded as being as much personal contests as Party battles. Despite all that, a victory for Street would be a political earthquake and quite properly get a lot of attention.
An even greater earthquake on the political Richter scale would be if Cllr Sean Anstee, the Leader of Trafford Council, is elected Mayor of Greater Manchester – defeating Andy Burnham. I am not predicting it. On Manchester itself there are no Conservative councillors. Some of the other authorities that make up the area include Wigan, Salford, Oldham, Rochdale and Tameside. This is not easy territory for Conservatives. Stockport, Bury and Bolton are a bit more favourable and then there is Trafford. A picture of a miserable defeated Burnham would probably knock Street off the front pages. Anything is possible in the current political mood but it would be a surprise. Even a close result would be an achievement.
Tees Valley must also be likely to return a Labour Mayor despite the current opinion polls. It covers Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland and Stockton-on-Tees. Liverpool must surely be won by Labour also. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough should return a Conservative Mayor even in periods of Labour popularity nationally.
The county councils are mostly Conservative already. I would expect the Conservatives to win back Lancashire and Nottinghamshire. The stretch target will be Derbyshire. This was gained by the Conservatives in 2009 – despite the pundits have explained that such an outcome was impossible. Labour won it back in 2013.
In Wales, the Conservatives will be hoping to gain overall control of Monmouthshire and to gain the Vale of Glamorgan from Labour. I expect lots of other seats will be gained. The earthquake would be the Conservatives gaining Newport.
Scotland promises great Conservative progress. But talk of Conservative/Labour battlegrounds there is less straightforward. This is not just due to the SNP, but also the Single Transferable Vote system.
So the Mayoral battles will attract the most attention. But away from the media glare there will also be some important measures of Conservative progress and Labour decline.