Each year the local elections are written up and covered by the national media and national politicians as though they are a verdict on the Government and the major parties, particularly their leaders. There is much more to these elections though, where real power over budgets and local services is at stake.
Last year our ’50 councils to watch’ became the definitive guide to the marginal battleground across local government. This year we’ve again identified the top 50 councils where political control could change – see below. All data and predictions have then been placed into an interactive map on Google Fusion Tables. This data is accurate to the best of all knowledge and mapped to the best of our ability.
I, along with LGiU colleagues, will be live tweeting through the night as the results start to arrive. We will be using the #may3 hashtag. We will also be sending out hourly email updates – you can sign up to these here. An updated version of the map will be produced soon after.
The predictions are underpinned by analysis that cross references the current political balance of councils with the emerging context. Labour’s position in the opinion polls is much improved on their performance four years ago when these seats were last contested. The national vote share then was Conservatives 43%, Labour 24% and Lib Dems 23%.
The current opinion polls suggest Labour should expect to make substantial gains – and the Conservatives and Lib Dems could lose out. More recently, both last years elections and the by-elections that have taken place since then, confirm that the Conservative support is generally holding up, Labour is making gains overall and the Lib Dem vote has dropped.
There are of course significant local and regional variations across England and Wales. In Scotland the dynamics are very different where the rise in SNP support could come at Labour’s expense in some areas such as Glasgow.
50 Councils to watch profiles:
1.Derby: Labour need to gain four seats with only a third of the council seats up for election. The Conservatives will watch this closely for signs of the ‘Bombardier’ decision impacting on their electoral prospects in the parliamentary marginals in the city and across Derbyshire.
2.Hull: Labour took back the council last year from the Lib Dems who will be hoping to hold off a Labour surge at their expense this time
3.Milton Keynes: The prediction I made last year that the Conservatives would win enough seats to form a minority administration came true. This year they would need to win 5 more seats to have an outright majority, but with only a third of seats up for election this seems a tall order.
4.North East Lincolnshire: Currently a minority Labour administration, the local Conservatives and Lib Dems have chosen not to join up to outvote Labour here. The 12 seats up for election this time are evenly split, 4 each for the three main parties. This gives Labour a good chance to gain the three seats they need to take control.
5.Peterborough: The Conservatives will almost certainly remain in control here but the decision to increase council tax has led to defections and could impact on the election results, this is an interesting one to watch
6.Plymouth: This is a straight two way fight between the ruling Conservatives and Labour, who are attempting to gain a handful of seats to win control. This contest is important for both parties to see how they are faring head to head, with the added spice that Plymouth is home to two parliamentary marginals
7.Portsmouth: The Lib Dems are in control here but a net gain of four seats by Conservatives would give them the upper hand. Labour have only a couple of seats but could hold the balance of power if the council goes ‘hung’
8.Reading: Labour run a minority administration and will hope to strengthen their position, but they will need to watch out for the Greens who are targetting gains
9.Southampton: The Conservatives have held a slim majority here and Labour would need a net gain of six seats to take snatch control, which seems a tall order when only a third of the council is up for election.
10. Thurrock: This is a tight two way fight between Conservatives and Labour, with Labour currently having the upper hand with 24 seats to the Conservatives 22. This is one of Labour’s top parliamentary targets and Ed Miliband’s office will be watching this result, not least because Miliband aide Polly Billington is Labour’s parliamentary candidate
11. Swindon: Conservatives have a commanding majority here but local sources are concerned that there could be significant losses to Labour as the council has ‘all out’ elections this year.
12. Birmingham: The elected Mayor referendum will probably grab the headlines as this could be more decisive in the long term than the council election results. Labour Leader Albert Bore is putting himself forward to be Labour’s candidate – winning control of the council from the Conservative and Lib Dem administration is on the cards and would position him for a future Mayoral contest. The current make up is 56 Lab, 39 Con, 24 Lib Dem and 1 other.
13. Calderdale: The Conservatives are the largest party and would need five net gains to take control and oust the Labour / Lib Dem coalition. With only a third of seats up for election the council is likely to remain hung.
14. Liverpool: The Lib Dem collapse in Liverpool was one of the big stories of the 2011 local elections and Nick Clegg’s party will be watching nervously to see if there are further losses this year. One of the few Lib Dems to hold on last year, Richard Kemp, will be flying the yellow flag in the Mayoral election against current council Leader, Labour’s Joe Anderson, who is widely tipped to win.
16. Rochdale: Labour has a minority administration and will hope to win an outright majority this time, but the town has been politically volatile in recent years, including with political defections.
17. Stockport: The Lib Dems have run the council for a long time but they now have a minority administration and will have to campaign hard to hold on.
18. Walsall: Conservatives and Labour have 27 seats each but the Conservatives run the council with the support of minor parties. This is a major battleground in the Midlands and Labour will be hoping for a swing back towards them this time.
19. Wirral: Labour have the most seats here but after a difficult period of minority rule the Conservatives have recently taken charge with Lib Dem support. After a period of uncertainty both Labour and the Conservatives both be aiming for gains.
20. Burnley: Currently a minority Lib Dem administration, Labour will be aiming to take the few seats they need to get the upper hand here.
21. Cannock Chase: A Labour minority administration currently, they will be trying to win a majority.
22. Carlisle: Can the Conservatives hold on to minority control or will Labour, currently the largest party, be able to win control.
23. Cheltenham: The Lib Dems hold 25 of the 40 seats, but with half of the seats up for election this May, a Conservative gain cannot be ruled out.
24. Chorley: The council is finely balanced between Labour and the Conservatives, but the Tories currently run the council with Lib Dem support. Labour and the Tories will both be vying to win a clear majority this time.
25. Colchester: The Lib Dems have a two seat advantage over the Conservatives here and will be hoping to hold on to power.
26. Exeter: The council is a three way contest and has been hung for years. There is currently an all party administration but Labour will have designs on gaining the few seats they need to take control.
27. Forest of Dean: Currently a Conservative minority administration, the Tories will hope to gain outright control, although with only a third of the seats up this time the council could well remain hung.
28. Great Yarmouth: This is a straight two way fight between Labour and the Conservatives, with Labour needing to gain 4 seats to snatch control from the Conservatives.
29. Harlow: Another of the few areas in the East of England where Labour is competitive, the Conservatives currently hold the council with a 1 seat majority.
30. Lincoln: The political balance in Lincoln is on a knife edge between Labour and Conservatives. The outcome this time has extra significance as this is now a top parliamentary marginal.
31. Mole Valley: The Lib Dems are the largest party but the Conservatives run the council with Independent support. Conservatives will be aiming for outright control.
32. Newcastle-under-Lyme: A Conservative and Lib Dem administration could be vulnerable to Labour who are already the largest party.
33. Nuneaton and Bedworth: Labour currently run this on the Mayor’s casting vote and look set to gain outright control this time.
34. Pendle: Currently in no overall control the council is finely balanced between the three main parties and the outcome is difficult to predict.
35. Rossendale: A Labour minority administration at present, they will be hoping to win a majority
36. Stroud: The Conservatives have a minority administration and this may continue, but the other interest here is the relative strength of the Greens who currently have 6 councillors and will be looking to make gains.
37. Weymouth and Portland: Currently an all party administration, the Conservatives are the largest party and the only one who could take control with just a third of the seats being contested this time.
38. Winchester: This is a hotly contested Lib Dem and Conservative battleground where, given the national polls, the Conservatives might hope to gain outright control, having had a minority administration.
Scottish local government uses a PR system for local elections which leaves most councils hung. There are an exotic range of combinations in the administrations across Scotland which are certain to change significantly after May’s elections. The SNP is widely expected to make gains against all parties. Labour will hope that they can fend of the SNP surge and do well against the Conservatives and Lib Dems.
1.Aberdeenshire: Currently a Lib Dem and Conservative administration, the SNP are likely to become the largest party.
2.Falkirk: In an unusual coalition Labour works with the Conservatives to run the council. This will be an SNP target to win control.
3.Fife: This is a three way split between Labour, the Lib Dems and SNP and anything could happen.
4.Glasgow: Labour’s dominance in Glasgow is under threat, with the SNP hopeful of making significant gains. This is likely to be the most watched contest of the night in Scotland.
5.Renfrewshire: A minority SNP administration relies on Lib Dem support. Could they win outright control or could Labour – currently the largest party – snatch the initiative.
6.South Ayrshire: Conservatives have been in the driving seat of a minority administration but the SNP are challenging this time
7.West Lothian: Labour are kept out of power, despite being the largest party, by an SNP / Others combination. Can Labour win control or will the SNP emerge stronger on Alex Salmond’s coat tails.
It could be Labour’s night in Wales where they will hope to win back many of the 100 seats they lost when these seats were last contested in 2008, with Labour polling a record low share of the vote.
1.Caerphilly: A tight two way fight between Labour and Plaid, Labour will be hoping to wrest control from the minority Plaid / Independent administration.
2.Cardiff: The Lib Dems are braced for losses and Labour expects a comeback. The Conservatives did will in the capital four years ago and will be looking to hold on to the seats they gained.
3.Conwy: Presents an opportunity for the Conservatives to emerge as the lead partner in a new coalition. They are currently much the largest party but are kept out of power by a coalition of the other parties.
4.Newport: Traditionally a strong Labour area they lost this council last time around and will be hoping to win back control from the Conservative / Lib Dem minority administration
5.Swansea: The Lib Dems have ruled here with the support of the large group of Independents but Labour, currently the largest party, will be looking for gains.