What would be a good result for the Tories on May 4th?
Traditionally, winning more than 40% of the vote nationwide has been regarded as the benchmark for a successful opposition party. However, that seems too high a hurdle now that the Lib Dems typically win 25% + of the vote in national elections, and an increasing share of the vote goes to a variety of minor parties.
I would suggest that the Conservatives have to obtain at least 38% of the vote nationwide on May 4th. That was the share of the vote won by Michael Howard in 2004, and David Cameron must demonstrate that he can do at least as well as that.
In terms of council gains, the biggest scope for Conservative gains is in London, where all of the seats are being contested, and where the last round of elections was in 2002. In those elections, following a popular budget, and before Iraq, Labour and Conservatives finished level-pegging in the Capital.
The Conservatives must open up a substantial lead in London. They must take control of boroughs like Bexley, Hammersmith, Harrow, Croydon, Merton, and Hillingdon, as well as making inroads into boroughs like Brent, Camden and Hounslow, simply in order to show that they are in contention as a potential alternative government.
Outside London, the scope for headline gains is much less. Seats are being contested in 144 authorities, but only one third of them are coming up in the vast majority of cases.
Few authorites are likely to show switches from one party to another, but the Conservatives need to show they are gaining ground in marginal battlegrounds like Portsmouth, Southampton, Bury, Wirral, Calderdale, Crawley, North Tyneside, and Reading. If David Cameron really can reach out to groups who have shunned the Conservatives, then perhaps a seat or two might be gained in places like Newcastle and Manchester.
Last nightâ€™s results will be discouraging for the Conservatives, and encouraging for both Labour and the Lib Dems, although, as I have always said, one should beware of reading too much into one weekâ€™s results:-
Mid Bedfordshire DC, Houghton, Hayes, Southill and Old Warden : Con 555, Labour 44, Lib Dem 741. Lib Dem gain from Con. It is hard to draw any conclusions from this, as the Conservatives were previously unopposed.
Middlesborough UA, Middlehaven: Con 58, Lab288, LD 49, Ind 127. Lab hold. The Lib Dems fell from second to fourth place.
Kerrier DC, Redruth South: Con 80, Lab 104, LD 206, Ind 443, Ind 138. Independent hold. A typical result from Cornwall.
North Cornwall DC, Bude: Con, 288, LD 651,Ind 82, LD gain from Mebyon Kernow. This was no surprise as the other seat in the ward is held by the Lib Dems.
Dacorum BC, Warners End: Con 457, Lab 570, LD 250, NF106, Grn 42, UKIP 26 . Lab gain from Con . This is Labourâ€™s second gain in Dacorum since May 2005. Despite their narrow loss of Hemel Hempstead at the general election, Labour have not given up in this constituency. The victorious Labour candidate is a former councillor for the ward.
Harborough DC, Misterton: Con 425, Lab 47 LD 266. A solid Conservative hold, but congratulations to â€œIcarusâ€ for winning 266 votes for the Lib Dems on his first attempt.
Mendip DC, Frome Berkley Down: Con 359, LD 439. Lib Dem gain from Con.
Bradford MBC, Craven: Con 1304, Lab 669, LD 315. Con hold. A solid win for the Conservatives in a safe seat.
Sean Fear is a Conservative activist in London