So what’s happening with the Unitary Authorities?
The Unitary Authorities were a creation of John Majorâ€™s government. They have similar powers to London Boroughs. They combine the functions of County and District councils, in single-tier authorities.
There are 46 of them in England, of which 45 will hold elections in May. 25 will hold all-out elections, and 20 will elect by thirds. Most of the seats coming up were last contested in 2003, with some in 2004.
In 2003, the vote shares were Conservative 33%, Labour and the Liberal Democrats 28% each, and Others 12%. Currently, the Conservatives hold 12 (plus the Torbay Mayoralty), Labour 8 (plus the Stoke Mayoralty), the Liberal Democrats 4, and 21 are under no overall control. Labour have overall control of Middlesborough, but it has an independent Mayor.
In these authorities, as elsewhere, the Conservatives are likely to gain ground in May. Bath and North East Somerset, Blackpool, East Riding, Bournemouth, Darlington, Herefordshire, North East Lincolnshire, North Somerset, Torbay and Plymouth will all be vulnerable to a Conservative advance, in line with recent local by-election results. Of the authorities which the Conservatives currently hold, only North Lincolnshire (which has a one seat majority) and Thurrock (where Labour performed well last year) can be considered vulnerable. My guess is that in a likely bad year for Labour, the Conservatives will hold both.
Labour can expect to lose ground. Blackpool, Blackburn & Darwen, Plymouth, Darlington, all look highly vulnerable. In a really bad year, even Nottingham might fall. Labour will hold Halton, Hartlepool, and Reading and continue to have effective control of Stoke, with the backing of at least one third of its councillors. Their minority control of Stockton and Derby looks highly vulnerable. In my view, Labourâ€™s best chances of making gains are in Leicester, and Luton, where the Liberal Democrats made big gains among Muslim voters on the back of the Iraq war, in 2003. That effect may now have dissipated.
The Liberal Democrats will probably lose Torbay (which alternates between them and the Conservatives at each election) and Bournemouth (where the council has made itself very unpopular). In contrast, they should gain Hull, and must have hopes of taking South Gloucestershire, and Warrington, where they are just short of a majority.
The first by-election of the year was a Conservative hold, in Barrow-in-Furness Borough Council, Dalton North. Conservative 400, Labour 355, Other 147. This represents no swing from Conservative to Labour since May of last year, when the seat was last contested.
Sean Fear is a London Tory activist