Or… which councils’ websites should you have open as browser tabs by 11pm on Thursday 3 May?
The local election polls close at 10pm on Thursday, but in contrast to the general election in 2010, a large number of counts are starting on the Friday morning. This is probably sensible from the point of view of allowing time to verify postal votes and to get the counting done after a good sleep rather than by tired people being paid overtime, but it does cut down on the fun for those of us who watch election results and like to drawn conclusions from the first straws in the wind.
The Press Association helpfully publishes a list of anticipated declaration times. These are basically the times at which councils expect to have finished the count, so results in individual wards will be available considerably beforehand and allow us to see which way the wind is blowing. The following wards are worth looking out for, because they will be counted overnight and because they will tell us something about the national picture – or in a couple of cases just give a glimpse of interesting local peculiarities.
- 1. Blundellsands, Sefton
Blundellsands is the remaining Conservative ward of Crosby, north of Liverpool, and it has been very close in the last two sets of local elections, with the Tories winning by 85 votes in 2010 and 21 votes in 2011. If Labour win this ward, it is a sign that they are on course to gain control of Sefton. That would be notable because no party has had a majority since 1986, and Labour has never won it before – a symbol of long term political change in the North West. Andrew Teale has written a rather good guide to the complexities of Sefton elections at Britain Votes - and see also his Greater Manchester preview.
- 2. Little Horton ward, Bradford
Until the victory of George Galloway in the Bradford West by-election at the end of March, Bradford seemed one of the surer Labour victories. Labour would not even have to do as well as in 2010 to secure control. However, it remains to be seen how much of Galloway’s vote transfers over to his Respect colleagues in several Bradford wards. Labour losses to Respect in two wards, Manningham and City, seem to be expected but there is doubt about other wards, including inner city Little Horton, which is actually in the currently Lib Dem Bradford East seat. The Guardian wrote up the ward campaign.
- 3. Peartree ward, Southampton
Southampton is one of the key Labour targets in the 2012 local elections and Peartree is one of the key marginal wards in the city. It is a suburban area lying to the east of the River Itchen, and since 2011 it has had the distinction of having one councillor from each of the three main parties. The Conservative seat gained in 2008 is up for election, and the Lib Dem elected in 2010 has left the council causing a by-election. Labour’s win in 2011 was surprising and narrow. If Labour win one or both of the seats today then they probably have a majority in this marginal city. For more on Southampton, see Southern Front.
- 4. Chipping Norton, West Oxfordshire
West Oxfordshire is the council for David Cameron’s Witney constituency, and the town of Chipping Norton is associated with Cameron and his ‘set’. The Conservatives are defending a seat here in the local elections. However, it is one of the more marginal areas of West Oxfordshire and Labour held the other council ward in Chipping Norton last year.
- 5. Lydiard & Freshbrook, Swindon
Every seat in Swindon is up for election this year because there have been ward boundary changes. It is just about feasible for Labour to take overall control from the Conservatives, although it is quite a tall order. If the Conservatives hold this newly drawn outer suburban area, whose component parts have previously been in marginal wards, then the Tories have probably retained their majority in Swindon and probably therefore good prospects in holding the two marginal Parliamentary seats. I’ve written more about Swindon for Southern Front.
- 6. Amblecote, Dudley
Dudley is another key contest between Labour and Conservative. The parties each won 12 wards last year, something of a disappointing result for Labour, and Labour needs to win 15 seats this year for a majority, and Amblecote would be one of them. It is a Black Country town lying between Stourbridge and Brierley Hill. The Conservatives were 317 votes (8.5 percentage points) ahead in the 2011 local elections, so Labour needs a significant swing since then. The UKIP vote is well worth watching in Amblecote and Dudley more generally. They won 8.5 per cent across the borough (12 per cent in Amblecote) in 2011 and if they improve their showing could tip the balance between the two main parties.
7. Fant, Maidstone
The Conservatives will almost certainly retain control of Maidstone council, but this ward is a real curiosity. It is, as it were, the Latin Quarter of Maidstone, on the left bank of the Medway, and it is a four-way marginal. The Conservatives gained it from Labour in 2008, but the Lib Dems came out on top in 2010 before the Tories won again in 2011 but with only 29.4 per cent of the vote. The fourth-placed Greens won 21.4 per cent. Labour will be trying to break back onto the council and show a small ‘red shoot’ in Kent.
- 8. Cockett, Swansea
Labour should be on course to regain their majority in Wales’s second city – although Cardiff is a tougher nut to crack. A key step on the way is the Cockett ward in western Swansea, a four-member ward (some Welsh wards have more councillors than any in England), where Labour must hope to sweep aside the Lib Dems – who in turn gained the seat from Plaid Cymru in 2008.
- 9. Heanor East, Amber Valley
Heanor is traditionally one of the more Labour towns in the marginal borough and constituency of Amber Valley, and it was a particularly depressing result for Labour in their disaster year of 2008 when the BNP won both Heanor East and Heanor West. The sitting BNP councillor is defending the East seat this year. In the 2010 local election (the last time these wards were fought) Labour had fairly narrow margins over the Conservatives.
10. Bradwell North, Great Yarmouth
Eastern England turned in Labour’s worst results in the 2010 general election, and results in the region in the 2011 local elections were very patchy. One of the less successful patches was the marginal town of Great Yarmouth, and Labour has to hope that they have improved their position in 2012. Bradwell North, a residential area south west of the town centre, is one of the key wards Labour must win to gain control for the first time since the Tories gained it in 2000. Southern Front has an article on Yarmouth.