By Tim Montgomerie
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One hour to go until polling stations close and the expectation is that Labour will gain about 700 council seats tonight. Anything less and they will be seen to have under-performed. Roughly two-thirds of the gains will probably come from the Conservatives and a third from the Lib Dems. It will mark the end of an almost uninterrupted sixteen year period of Tory gains in local government.
The graph above tells a powerful story. We suffered a long and slow decline in the Thatcher and Major years before an almost complete rebuild during the Blair and Brown years. The recovery in local government helped compensate for the decline in party membership. Hopefully we won't ever decline again to those mid-1990s troughs but the price of being in power in central government is that we are going to see good Tory councillors lose office because of mid-term protest voting.