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Council Elections On May 3rd Could Be The Biggest Story Of The Night

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Will Ed Miliband still be smiling on May 3rd?
Will Ed Miliband still be smiling on May 3rd?

The London Mayoral election is certainly causing fireworks in the capital, but it could well be that the biggest story on the night of May 3rd ends up being the local council elections being held across the UK.

There'll be elections held for 131 local councils in England and all the councils in Scotland. Though they're less glitzy than the mayoral clash, the local elections could easily have a greater impact in the long-run on British politics, with the Tories and Lib Dems clearly in for a rough night.

The Conservatives could end up with 400 fewer councillors, while the LibDems could lose up to 250, according to Professor Leighton Vaughan Williams from Nottingham Business School. The LibDems won't suffer quite as bad a night as last year, he told HuffPost UK, as there are "fewer councillors to lose."

With a consistent poll lead, Labour are in a good position to benefit. Prof. Vaughan Williams anticipates they could gain over 650 councillors. Polling expert Mike Smithson, from Political Betting.com, tells HuffPost UK that he expects them to win 750 councillors. "Their predictions to win only 300 or less are just claptrap. They should be doing very well indeed", he adds.

But Labour can't count on it being a perfect night for them. Glasgow is the place to watch in the Scottish local elections. It is Scotland's largest council, which Labour manage precariously in a minority administration.. If the SNP took control of it, Prof Vaughan Williams argues, it would be a "game changer".

"It’s Labour’s jewel in the crown. If they took that, whatever happened elsewhere on the night – that’d be the big story and would be a deep embarrassment to the Labour Party not just in Scotland but nationally."

The danger of Labour losing Glasgow to the SNP is underlined by Labour blogger Peter Kenyon. He told HuffPost UK that Labour's campaigning network, with which they won a landslide in 1997, "has been severely neglected, if abused in the intervening years". He warned that Labour's membership in Scotland is "pathetically low, that reflects the machine type political model [there]".

However, the SNP may be prone to "wildly inflated expectations", according to Professor John Curtice. He told the Huffington Post UK that the Scottish Nationalists "talked somewhat loosely about [their prospects]. They are at risk of failing". He admitted it would be a "quite substantial achievement" for them as it is at the "top end" of their expectations.

The other big story of the night looks set to be Birmingham City Council. Labour look set to take control of the second biggest city in the Britain - a council currently slenderly controlled by the Tories and Lib Dems.

Claire Spencer, chair of Birmingham Fabians, is cautiously positive about Labour's prospects. She tells HuffPost UK that "mathematically speaking its very likely that the council will become Labour". She highlights the fact that it'd only require "4 or 5 seats" for Labour to take control.

After George Galloway's win in Bradford West, speculation has mounted that the Respect Party could make an impact in Birmingham. Respect have claimed Labour is "running scared", claiming they could win the parliamentary seat of Birmingham Hodge Hill.

Claire Spencer is sceptical about Respect's potential impact in Birmingham, claiming they "aren't on the radar, as they haven't stood any candidates in the elections this time". She suggested that if Respect leader Salma Yaqoob stood for MP in Hodge Hill, it would help the Tories as it would "dilute the Labour vote".

The Conservatives are sanguine about the prospect of big losses in the council elections. CF Chairman Ben Howlett told HuffPost UK - "if you start at the top, you're not going to end up gaining more at the top".

"To be frank, we’re going to lose seats" Howlett admitted, "but I haven’t heard any briefings come out saying we’re bracing ourselves for a massive defeat "

Howlett highlighted councils like Southampton as potential targets. He says that the Tories have their eye on the "last bastions of LibDem heartland" for potential gains. "Are we going to pick votes up from Labour? Unlikely" he says, "it depends how miffed off people are with the current system".

The LibDems are sober about their prospects on May 3rd. A Liberal Democrat spokesman admitted to HuffPost UK that it'll be an "extremely difficult" set of local elections. He suggests their target is to avoid the calamitous losses they suffered last year.

"We're hoping we could get to the point this year that we don’t see the same levels as last year" he said.

The LibDem spokesman claims that in areas where the party has an MP, they have either held or increased their number of council seats. He claims that, from the by-elections this year, the Libdems are still "in contention" - as they have polled on average 26 (while Tories poll 34 and Labour 23).

He says the "biggest challenges" for the LibDems lie in the north.

"There aren't any Conservative councillors. We’ve pushed the Conservatives out of councils across the north of England. So where is the protest against the government vote in all the northern metropolitan cities? If you want to vote against the Conservatives, you can't as there aren't any councillors there. That is where we get hit."

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