With local elections almost upon us it’s hard not to be drawn into speculation about the results. Rather than offering predictive hostages to fortune, however, we think it’s more helpful to try and draw out some of the key questions into which these elections might give us insight
1) How much is enough for Labour?
Given where the elections there is probably more at stake for Labour than for the Conservatives.
There will be some key battlegrounds in London. Given how well Labour did here in 2010 (even as they were doing very badly in the general election), they will argue that they will be doing well to hold and consolidate those gains. It will be interesting to see, however, whether they can make additional progress in the outer boroughs. They’re widely expected to take control of Croydon and Redbridge and Barnet, especially, would be very significant scalps if they were able to pull it off.
Outside London, elections are predominantly in Labour held metropolitan boroughs, out in thirds, so there are unlikely to be many changes. Exceptions are the last two non-Labour mets, Trafford and Solihull and NOC Stockport currently under minority Lib Dem control.
Labour will aspire to take control of all these. Whatever happens we can expect a vehement debate about what counts as enough progress. For the Conservatives it will be easier to try and shrug these results off as a mid(ish) term result in places where they don’t expect to do too well anyway.
2) Can UKIP do it again?
UKIP were the big story of last year’s elections. Though their landslide of seats did not in fact translate into any real political change on the ground. Can they do it again? This year they are outside their traditional hunting grounds, but we will find out if, as per Lord Glasman’s fears, they can take votes in significant number from Labour as well as the Conservatives. Will co-incidence with the European elections help them in the local elections or will people split their votes?
Arguably, given Nigel Farage’s decision not to stand in Newark these elections are even more crucial for them to prove that they are a serious (or at least a significant) political force and not a flash in the pan protest.
3) Will the Lib Dem strongholds survive?
The Liberal Democrats also have a lot at stake in these elections. With their share of the national vote at an all time low they are relying on their proven resilience in their local strongholds. Can this be sustained?
Again, London may be a key indicator. They will be pulling out all the stops to hold Kingston and especially, Sutton which they’ve controlled since 1990. Lose that and they’re wiped out in London and the stronghold strategy is in ruins.
4) Does a fixed general election make any difference?
This is the first time local elections close to the end of a parliament have a KNOWN date for election – does that make a difference? Does voting against the current government mean less because it’s not quite as destabilising? Does it make it more or less important for the opposition to demonstrate momentum?
5) Will Innovation be rewarded?
It’s easy to assume that people use local elections purely to voice support for, or protest against, national parties, but while that’s undoubtedly true to some extent, I think that local factors play a greater role than is sometimes credited. Arguably this is especially true now as councils find new and different ways to respond to financial and public service challenges. The degree of innovation we now find in councils makes the local political landscape a much more varied and therefore a much more contested space which may encourage a greater degree of local focus in the ballot box.
But will councils which have made a big play of adopting big transformative strategies such as Oldham, Lambeth, or Barnet be rewarded or punished – as Barnet is only one of these in which change of control is even vaguely possible it could be a key bellwether?
LGiU will, as always, be bringing you all the action live via Twitter and our special election live blog. Last year we were calling results about an hour quicker than the BBC thanks to our network of count correspondents. If you’re interested in updating us from your local count please let us know.