Forget the European elections, which everyone (particularly those who fancy causing a bit of grief for David Cameron) expects to produce humiliating results for the Conservatives. The elections that have a longer-lasting impact that take place on the same day are the local elections. I look at the emphasis the Tories are putting on campaigning in the locals that goes over and above anything they’re doing for seats in Brussels, in my Telegraph column today. But even those areas that don’t have concurrent local and European polls on 22 May aren’t exhausting themselves on campaigning for the European elections.
Last year, the Conservatives tried to manage expectations by suggesting at one point that they would lose up to 750 seats – in the end they lost 335. This year there’s a private hope that they could hold onto the seats they have – and also gain some in certain areas. The party even hopes it could win some seats off Labour in Tower Hamlets.
Analysis by Tony Travers of the London School of Economics suggests that Croydon, Redbridge, Havering, Merton, Tower Hamlets, Kingston and Harrow are the most marginal councils which could possibly change political control. Travers also expects Ukip to find the most purchase for its campaigns in Havering, Barking and Dagenham and Bexley, as the part has enjoyed its best results in London Assembly elections in eastern boroughs. Chris Game of the University of Birmingham lists Harrow, Merton, Redbridge and Croydon as low-hanging fruit for Labour to take control.
The reason these council seats matter to MPs is that they draw some of their most dedicated campaigners for their own election from local authority seats. If you take a load of seats from your parliamentary opponent’s party this year, you’ll weaken their 2015 ground war, and strengthen yours.