What will happen in the May 2011 local elections?

by Stephen Tall on December 28, 2010

The Guardian takes a look today at the Lib Dems’ prospects in next year’s local elections, focusing on England rather than the national assembly and parliament elections due in Wales and Scotland.

Not surprisingly, they come to the conclusion that Nick Clegg’s party is likely to be most vulnerable in those areas where the Lib Dems face a strong Labour opposition — and most likely safer in areas where the local fight is with the Tories.

Here’s their assessment:

In England, the Liberal Democrats will be defending 1,830 seats, Labour 1,600 and the Conservatives just over 5,000. In the equivalent elections in 2007, the Liberal Democrats polled 26% of the vote, about twice its current poll level. A third of the seats in Metropolitan councils and all the seats in the 30 unitary councils are up for election. A total of 124 district councils have all their seats up for election, and 70 have a third.

Nearly 1,300 of the Liberal Democrats’ seats are in district councils, and only few of these districts represent realistic hunting ground for Labour gains.

Liberal Democrats will be worried they will lose many seats in Metropolitan councils such as Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Stockport and Sheffield – the constituency town of Nick Clegg. Widespread defeats would undermine the story that the Liberal Democrats could replace a tired Labour party in the north.

In the unitary councils, the Liberal Democrats are likely to lose most seats in areas where Labour is the challenger such as Bristol, Bedford, Hull, Luton, Portsmouth and Redcar.

By contrast Nick Clegg will hope to retain the relatively large groupings of Liberal Democrat-held seats where the Conservatives are the main opposition such as Poole, South Gloucestershire, West Berkshire, Bath, Windsor and Maidenhead, and Cheshire East.

In the district councils the Liberal Democrats will be vulnerable to a Labour resurgence in Chesterfield, Cambridge, Ashfield and Warwick. But Labour will need signs that it is starting to rebuild its withered local government base in areas that have been dominated by the Tories and Liberal Democrats over the past decade.

The concern for Labour is that after polling day it may still look electorally irrelevant in large swaths of the countryside, or if swings to Labour in Liberal Democrat-held council seats merely let in Conservatives. In seats such as North Norfolk where the single largest group of Liberal Democrat councillors are up for election, there is very little sign that there will be a Labour resurgence.

Where do Voice readers think the party can do well — and where do you think the biggest threats lie?

(I’ve set up a thread on our members-only forum here for those wishing to continue the conversation in private.)

Interestingly, the Guardian report also refers to the party publishing “a checklist of 67 party manifesto commitments already or nearly achieved in eight months in office” — as yet there’s nothing on the party website, nor an email to members. But such a list is long-overdue, and will be welcomed by supporters looking to point to Lib Dem achievements in the Coalition.