It’s too early to know how the May 5 local elections will pan out – and AV may get the bigger headlines – but the omens are promising for Labour.
I revealed this morning that Labour is fielding candidates for at least 67 per cent of seats, up from just 54 per cent the last time these English seats were contested – in 2007.
Labour looks likely to seize Sheffield, where the Lib Dems still have the highest number of councillors but lost overall control last year. Clegg’s party is also likely to lose control of Newcastle. Across the board Labour is likely to take about 1,000 seats given that their national poll standing has jumped from mid-20s, four years ago, to high 30s.
The fate of the Lib Dems is of great interest meanwhile given their dreadful poll standing; they may lose hundreds of seats, but will they hold on to ones in their key strongholds – eg where they have MPs? They are hoping their support is now engrained enough to hang on in these areas, even if they shed seats elsewhere.
As for AV, I attended an interesting presentation yesterday by Rob Hayward, a Tory political analyst, who said that most of the public still seem unaware that the referendum is even taking place. Hayward thinks that London turnout could be as low as 25 per cent (because no local elections are happening in the capital) – others think the figure could be even lower. That is a big contrast with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which are hosting assembly elections. The weird thing is, however, that no one knows who this differential turnout will help: the No campaign, the Yes campaign or neither.