The Tories are braced for a drubbing in today's local elections, but with the bar set so low will things be as bad as expected for the party? In the lead-up to the vote, Conservatives have been somewhat sheepish on the doorsteps – hardly a surprise, perhaps, given the fallout from Brexit. So will Tory voters stay away? Or will they switch sides to Labour? The mood across Britain is certainly febrile, and after three years of chaos in Westminster, it could be the smaller parties – the Greens, Ukip and the Lib Dems – who see the biggest gains. Here are the results to watch out for:
The Hertfordshire council will be among the first to declare. This is a Tory safe zone – 28 out of 30 seats are held by the Conservatives and two by Labour – but nothing can be taken for granted in the current circumstances. The seat uses the thirds system, which means ten seats are contested each year with one ‘fallow’ year in every four. If the Tories’ apocalyptic expectations for the EU parliament elections carries over to the local elections, expect some of those formerly rock-solid Tory held seats to shift. If a significant swing occurs in this Tory heartland, we could be in for a dramatic night.
As in Broxbourne, a third of the seats here are being contested. Crucially though Basildon currently has a narrow Conservative majority, which makes this seat one to watch. If bitter Tory voters stay home or switch, Labour could take it.
A Labour safe zone in the general election, Sunderland has been partial to choosing Tory and Lib Dem councillors in the past. Labour are hoping to take this one. But it would be wise not to read too much of a bigger picture into the results here, as Sunderland is frequently something of an outlier at local elections.
North East Lincolnshire:
Another Tory council that Labour and the Lib Dems have in their sights, this is a Brexity area (North East Lincolnshire voted 70 per cent to leave at the referendum) where the Conservatives could well be punished for the Brexit impasse. If the Tories are unable to get their voters out here then they could be in trouble.
Labour holds a precarious minority administration here, with 30 seats to the Tories’ 29 and two each for the Lib Dems and the Greens. Only a third of seats are up for grabs but with the numbers so close anything could happen. Labour are hoping to take control but watch out for the Greens, who have been campaigning hard. If they manage to steal votes from Labour, the result could well be a minority Tory administration. This seat is considered a bellwether for Labour fortunes, being a predominately Labour area with significant Tory enclaves. If Labour find their vote split with the Greens, expect pundits to speculate about the prognosis for Labour support across the country at a future general election.
Lost by Labour in 2015, Derby is now a minority Tory seat. The question here is how pro-Brexit voters in this area will respond to the Government’s handling of Britain's departure from the EU. Will they punish the Tories by voting for Labour, who have tried to subtly woo Brexiteers by refusing to make a clear commitment for a second referendum?
As in Derby, Stoke is another traditional Labour area which voted heavily for Brexit. Currently a minority Labour administration, the result here could well be decided on Brexit rather than local issues. If Labour wins here, it could be seen as a vindication for Jeremy Corbyn’s fence-sitting Brexit approach
Ukip secured its first council majority here in 2015, but it subsequently slipped from its grasp following a bust up over plans for a local airport. The party's leader Chris Wells resigned in 2018 after a row over housing caused a dozen Ukip councillors to break away. As a result, the Conservatives now form the largest group but the party lacks overall control. Could be the Tories' chance to turn Thanet blue again?
A bitter loss for the Lib Dems in 2011, a town the party had controlled since 1991. The Conservatives won a majority here in 2015 – again at the expense of the Lib Dems. But Vince Cable's party will be optimistic of making inroads and snatching back the area in what is set to be a key battleground.
Cheshire West and Chester:
An unexpected win for Labour in 2015, the party controls this seat with a majority of one. With the Tories here snapping at their heels, can they hold on? In other circumstances you might expect the Conservatives to put up a good fight. But amidst dire polling predictions for the Tories, it seems more likely that Labour will retain control.