What should we be looking out for as the results come in? Listed below are some key benchmarks. Many observers will focus on the net gains and losses of councillors and councils. ConservativeHome regards those as very crude measures of the party performance and will be preferring these measures:
Will Labour fall below 27%? ConservativeHome expects Labour to be the third-placed party but below 27% and Labour will be doing worse than in 2004 (a very bad year for them). If Labour falls below 25% we may get calls on election night from Labour MPs for Tony Blair to quit soon. If those calls come from Glenda Jackson and the usual suspects they can be dismissed. If they come from unexpected sources Tony Blair may be in serious trouble.
Can Tories become the biggest party in London? This looks likely and we look set to gain a number of councils including Hammersmith & Fulham, Croydon, Bexley and Merton. London has a number of marginal seats and good gains in the capital will show that the Tories are winning against Labour.
How will the Tories do in Manchester and Birmingham? Winning any seats in the city where the Tories held their Spring Forum is probably too much to hope for. In many Manchester
seats we are currently in third place. Progress will be measured by
the extent to which Tory candidates leap frog into second places and
position the party for gains in future years’ elections. The Tories
are currently in coalition with the LibDems in Birmingham.
Gains in Birmingham and our relative performance against the second
English city’s LibDems will be a test for the wisdom of that coalition.
How will the Tories fare against the LibDems? This, for ConservativeHome, is the most important test of David Cameron’s progress. Can we hold on to seats that we are defending against the LibDems? Can we take seats off Ming’s minions? Yellow versus blue fights matter most in parts of the country where the LibDems hold parliamentary seats – not least the west country and the south-west of London (the so-called golden triangle of LibDem seats). David Cameron cannot form a parliamentary majority without showing that his gentler, greener conservatism can start to defeat LibDems. There must be some sign of that tomorrow and, in exit polls, some sign that Tories are making progress with younger and female voters.
What share of the vote will Tories get? 40%+ would be fantastic but it is unlikely because of the growth of fringe parties.
How will the fringe parties and independent candidates do? Oxford will be a measure of the Green Party’s strength. The Greens hope that recent talk of environmental issues has raised the salience of their whole platform and they are hoping for real progress. The BNP are hoping for at least five gains in Barking and Dagenham. They aren’t standing in many seats and won’t win a big percentage of the national vote but what share of the vote will they garner in the seats they do contest? Will Tories suffer where the BNP stands? This year might be another year for independent gains. Voters – sick of the mainstream parties – are increasingly turning to independents. Mainstream party leaders need to watch this phenomenon with some concern.