Given the dire electoral circumstances the Lib Dems faced when these seats were last contested in 2013, the local elections next week are bound to produce significant Lib Dem gains. In particular they will expect to pick up seats from Labour if that Party proves to be in a state of collapse.
What is harder to predict is what councils, if any, the Lib Dems will gain. This is partly due to the Conservative dominance in English county councils – and the Lib Dems will find battles against the Conservatives a bit more tough.
Cornwall will be one to watch. That is a Council which has already got Lib Dems in power, albeit in coalition with independents. For the Lib Dems to gain overall control – which they had with a big majority until 2009 – would be a yet test. But the Labour vote is already rather limited there. Furthermore, all the MPs in the county are Conservatives and Cornwall backed Leave in the EU referendum. Indeed last time round UKIP got twice as many votes as Labour and the Conservatives will hope to win many of them over. My hunch is that it will stay under no overall control.
For Conservatives the struggle will be to keep Somerset and Devon from the Lib Dem clutches. These were both Conservative gains in 2009 which were then held in 2013. As with Cornwall, I think a key to Conservative survival will be squeezing the UKIP vote – which was also well above the Labour vote in both counties last time. Devon has the longest standing Liberal tradition – but some suggest that Somerset might be more vulnerable to the yellow peril this time. In the EU referendum Devon voted to Leave while Somerset was a pretty even split.
Then there is the election of a directly elected Mayor. This covers the local authority areas of Bath & North East Somerset ( a strongly Conservative area), Bristol City Council (much more Labour territory) and South Gloucestershire Council (which is Conservative). Under normal circumstances (for which we could take as a shorthand the 2015 General Election) this would be a Labour / Conservative battle. But the Lib Dems have a strong presence. I would hope and expect the Conservative candidate, Tim Bowles, to triumph – but I suspect the Lib Dems rather than Labour will be in second place.
Of course there will be the chance of Lib Dem gains elsewhere – in some ways rather easier in Remain voting counties. But in terms of council control, the south west is where it’s at.