Although Labour’s spring spurt in the polls has suffered a reality check following George Galloway’s surprise victory in the Bradford West parliamentary by-election, the party is still favourite to be the clear winner in next month’s local contests.
More from: Labour's election targets clear
Its victory in the battle of gains and losses is almost assured. Nearly all the seats falling vacant in England and Wales were last contested in 2008 when Labour posted one of its worst ever local election performances with less than a quarter of the total vote. The party can hardly fail to do rather better now.
More than a dozen councils look set to fall into Labour’s hands as the electoral pendulum swings from government to opposition. England’s second city, Birmingham, is the prime target, but councils from Plymouth in the west to North East Lincolnshire in the east to Carlisle in the north should tumble too.
Such change will have an impact on local policy-making, but a perhaps more valuable prize for the party’s leadership would be to come out top in this year’s national equivalent vote too. The failure to do so last year sparked debate about Ed Miliband’s leadership. If Labour should fall short again, the knives really may be out.
To reach that mark Labour needs to register at least 500 gains. An advance of closer to 700 gains would indicate the party was some 4-5 points ahead of its rivals.
The Conservatives face a more difficult task than last year when they defied the odds to become a rare example of a party in government actually winning additional seats and councils. They are defending the local electoral highpoint of their long period in opposition and will shrug off losses as the inevitable mid-term blues. Privately, however, they will be hoping to emerge with fewer of them than their coalition partners.
The Liberal Democrats need to demonstrate that they have drawn a line under the electoral disasters of 2011. They lost 150 seats in the metropolitan boroughs twelve months ago and face a similar haemorrhage if they do no better next month. Regardless of what happens elsewhere that alone would see them fall below 3,000 councillors across the country for the first time since 1986.
A ‘baker’s dozen’ of councils to watch
Birmingham City Council (NOC). Labour need five gains to take overall control for the first time since 2002. A 3% swing from the Lib Dems in wards such as Aston, Bordesley Green, and Springfield will suffice. Labour gained all these and many more in 2011.
Bradford City MDC (NOC). Two seat gains and Labour will secure control for the first time in the twenty-first century. A swing of less than 1% from the Conservatives since 2008 in the two Keighley wards and in Toller will more than do the trick. Labour’s ambitions could well be frustrated by Respect riding the coat-tails of George Galloway’s recent parliamentary by-election triumph.
Stockport MBC (NOC). The Lib Dems lost their overall majority for the first time since 2002 last year, but this remains the only metropolitan borough where they continue to run the council. That status could be threatened by further losses now.
Derby City Council (NOC). Labour need four gains for control on a swing of up to 8% from the Lib Dems and Conservatives since 2008. However the party won all the relevant wards, including Arboretum and Boulton, in 2011.
Plymouth City Council (Con). Labour need four gains to take control directly from the Conservatives. A swing of up to 5% since 2008 in Moor View, Southway, St Budeaux and St Peter wards will do the trick. The party won all four last year.
Cambridge City Council (LD). A symbolically important council for the Lib Dems. Labour won 3 of the wards the Lib Dems are defending in last year’s contest; if a seat in any additional wards slips away then so does their overall majority. Neither Oxford nor Cambridge currently has any Conservative councillors.
Carlisle City Council (NOC). Finely balanced between Labour and the Conservatives. Labour needs 3 gains for control with a 2% swing from both Conservatives and Lib Dems since 2008. It comfortably won each of the key wards –Belle Vue, Morton, and Yewdale- last year.
Harlow DC (Con). The Conservatives have a cushion of just a single seat. Labour will look to make a straight gain by winning Little Parndon and Hare Street, and Netteswell wards on a swing form the Conservatives of 4% since 2008.
Norwich City Council (NOC). Labour needs two gains for control as the Conservatives defend their last two seats on the council in Bowthorpe (2008 10% majority over Labour) and Catton Grove (2008 5% majority over Labour) wards. The Greens are the opposition party here.
Rossendale BC (NOC). The Conservatives lost control in 2011. Labour needs two gains for a majority. A swing of just over 3% from the Conservatives 2008 in the Cribden, Hareholme, Irwell, and Worsley wards will give them four extra seats. They won them all last year.
St Albans City & DC (NOC). The Conservatives wrested this from Lib Dem control last year and need a single gain for a majority of their own. Both the St Peters and Verulam wards would fall to them on a 3% swing from the Lib Dems since 2008, but they are themselves vulnerable to Labour in London Colney (5% majority in 2008).
Glasgow City Council (NOC). Labour won a clear majority in 2007, but has been hit by internal disputes and resignations of the whip. If the party fails to regain overall control it will be for the first time since 1977 when, in a clear sign of the changed nature of Scottish politics, it was the Conservatives who were the next largest party.
Cardiff Council (NOC). The Welsh capital has been a key battleground for Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems at recent general elections. The Lib Dems are now in danger of losing their hold as a minority administration at County Hall with as many as a dozen seats at risk to a swing of just 4% to either Labour or the Conservatives.
National equivalent vote at local elections in 2008, 2011 and 2012
Key likely changes in council control
NOC to Lab -Birmingham; Bradford; Walsall MBC; Derby; North East Lincolnshire Council; Reading BC; Thurrock BC; Nuneaton and Bedworth BC; Cannock Chase DC; Carlisle; Exeter City Council; Norwich; Rossendale; Bridgend CBC; Newport City Council
Con to Lab –Plymouth; Harlow
Con to NOC –Southampton City Council; Redditch BC; Vale of Glamorgan Council
NOC to Con –Winchester City Council