Countdown to May 1st – The Unitaries and the Shadows
A total of 338 Seats will be contested in 19 Unitary Authorities on May 1st. In addition, elections will be held for four new Shadow Unitary Authorities, Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Northumberland, and Durham, which will replace the existing County and District Councils, next year. A total of 346 seats are being contested in these new authorities.
Blackburn with Darwen, currently under No Overall Control, will remain that way. Labour are the largest party, but currently in opposition to a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition. Derby will also remain under No Overall Control, although, unusually, this has a Labour/Conservative administration. Halton will remain Labour. Hartlepool is currently run by an independent Mayor. No party has an overall majority and that will most likely remain the case after May 1st. Kingston upon Hull currently has a Liberal Democrat majority of just one seat, but they should increase this. Milton Keynes will remain under No Overall Control, with the Liberal Democrats remaining, just, the largest party, as will North East Lincolnshire. Ominously for Labour, in the latter, they are a very poor third, despite holding the Parliamentary seat. Peterborough will remain safely Conservative. Labour now have just two councillors left on an authority which they held until 1999. Plymouth will remain Conservative, particularly as UKIP, who polled quite strongly in local elections here, have disintegrated locally. Portsmouth offers the Liberal Democrats their best chance of a gain. They are just one seat short of a majority in that authority, and will be very disappointed if they canâ€™t take it.
Reading, the last authority of any size still held by Labour in Southern England, is almost certain to go to be lost to No Overall Control. Labour have done very well to hold it so long, but their luck is sure to run out this year. By way of consolation, they have a good chance of gaining Slough, where they are just two seats short. Since there will be a double contest in a ward where a Conservative was convicted of electoral fraud, they should have no difficulty getting those two seats. Southampton should see the Conservatives become the largest single party, although without an overall majority. Southend on Sea will remain Conservative, although independents are starting to challenge strongly. Stoke on Trent has a Labour Mayor, but with no party having an overall majority on the council. Politics here used to be entirely predictable â€“ with the council held by Labour for over eighty years (with a brief break in the late Sixties). Indeed, in 1997, Labour won 60 seats out of 60. But now, a strong local BNP, and a whole array of independents make this one of the most unpredictable councils in the country. Swindon will remain solidly Conservative. Thurrock would have given Labour an excellent chance of a gain, but I think the partyâ€™s unpopularity will prevent them from winning it back. Strong support for the BNP, who won a quarter of the vote last year, makes this hard to predict. Warrington will remain under Liberal Democrat control, and Wokingham, under Conservative control.
Northumberland will almost certainly go to No Overall Control, possibly with the Liberal Democrats as the largest party. Durham will plainly be won by Labour, although independents may well poll very strongly. And if the Conservatives really are doing as well as some current polls suggest, they ought to gain both the new authorities in Cheshire.
There were only two by-elections last night.
Herefordshire Unitary Authority, Old Gore. Conservative 422, Independent 401, Lib Dem 241, Green 49. A narrow Conservative hold in a marginal seat, with a turnout of 46%.
North East Derbyshire District Council, Holmwood & Heath. Lib Dem 382, Labour 356, Conservative 165. Liberal Democrat gain from Labour. This seat had been left uncontested for many years, and plainly Labour were nothing like as strong here as their opponents believed.