Most likely a bit of both, which may explain why both parties are being so reticent about their prospects – and why the BBC is running articles helping to explain how to judge who ‘won’ on the night.
Below we have picked out a few races – declaration times courtesy of the Press Association – which may provide useful (or at least interesting) insights for the Conservatives.
01:00 Nuneaton & Bedworth: Nuneaton is something of a bellwether constituency, Marcus Jones’ strong retention in 2015 being an early indicator of David Cameron’s surprise majority. The council is a Labour/Tory fight with a few Greens thrown in, and the local Conservatives are campaigning hard for an outside chance to unseat the Labour administration. If the Party are to offset losses in London with advances elsewhere, this will provide early evidence of it.
02:00 Trafford: A big one, this is the sole Conservative-run council in Greater Manchester and contains the Westminster seat of Graham Brady, the Chairman of the 1922 committee. Labour would apparently be hard-pressed to take full control save on a very good night, but if the Tory administration were unseated it would auger a bleak night for urban Conservatism – and not just in London.
02:30 Westminster: Alongside neighbouring Wandsworth, Westminster is one of the Conservatives’ central London strongholds and has been a totemic council for the Party since Margaret Thatcher’s day. The Tories have a comfortable lead over Labour and available evidence suggests that the Opposition will have to have a very good night to take it, but it’s an indication of the Tories’ weakness in London that this is even on the cards.
03:00 Wandsworth: The ‘Brighter Borough’ was thrust into the limelight during the dying days of the Thatcher administration when the Tories tried to use a strong result here to obscure a miserable performance in other parts of the country. We may now see that played out in reverse as Wandsworth, which has often made a point of principle of setting the lowest poll tax in the country, looks at the first serious chance of returning to Labour control since 1978.
04:00 Barnet: Another vulnerable London borough, this is apparently the most plausible Labour gain of the lot – on paper. However, Stephen Bush points out that the Opposition underperformed their London showing here in 2017, and Labour’s ongoing woes with Jewish voters might yet lead them to do so again.
04:00 Richmond-upon-Thames: Is there any life in the Liberal Democrats? This result will provide some indication. Currently they only have 14 councillors to the Tories 37, and Zac Goldsmith managed to regain his Parliamentary seat at the 2017 election, so if they did manage to regain control it would demonstrate that they have been able to parlay their pro-EU zealotry into gains in at least a few pockets of the country.
04:00 Portsmouth: The first council where we’ll get to see what effect the unwinding of UKIP will have on the results. The last time these seats were contested was at the height of the ‘People’s Army’, and they are defending the largest number of seats this time around. Will the Tories’ staunch implementation of Brexit win those voters over, or is Labour’s studied ambiguity enough to neutralise the issue? Is the shift towards the two main parties continuing, or will protest voters start returning to the Liberal Democrats, who were once very strong in the city? We’ll find out.
05:00 Kensington & Chelsea: There’s no suggestion that I’ve seen that the Tories might lose control of this council – at present they have 37 councillors against 11 Labour and two Liberal Democrats. However, it will be interesting to see whether the narrow loss of the Kensington constituency in 2017, and the aftermath of the Grenfell fire, will make a serious dent in the Party’s support here.
12.30 Watford: Another strange one. Richard Harrington has held this seat since 2010 (in 2015 with a majority of almost 10,000) despite the fact that the Tories have never managed to elect more than a bare handful of councillors, and they currently have none. Both the mayoral declaration and the council declaration later on Saturday afternoon will show how well the local Liberal Democrats – who run the show – will perform without the personal vote of four-term mayor Dorothy Thornhill at the top of the ticket.
18.00 Birmingham: The top line results for this council will be boring, as Labour will hold it comfortably. But we include it because local sources suggest that the Tories, who had 45 councillors in 2010 and actually ran the city in coalition with the Lib Dems, may be completely wiped out. They face an ‘all-out’ election on new boundaries, and the Party’s position in Birmingham has been weakening for years since it was competitive in four Westminster constituencies in 2010, but alongside poor results in Trafford and London a dramatic winnowing here, let alone a wipe out, would confirm that the Conservatives have an urban problem, not merely a London one.