On May 4th, the electorate go to the polls in 27 non-metropolitan county councils in England, 7 unitary councils in England, one metropolitan borough in England (Doncaster), while every local seat in Scotland and Wales will be contested. Given how many local seats the Lib Dems lost in the last parliament, combined with Lib Dem excitement around local elections (it’s up there with legalising illicit substances), I thought it would be interesting to do a realistic look at how the party might do on the day.
Let’s start with England. When most of these seats were last contested in 2013, the Lib Dems lost 124 seats. The previous elections involving the same seats in 2009, it is worth noting, saw the party lose two seats overall, so every local election pre-Coalition was not always roses for the Liberal Democrats. However, given the 2009 level of seats is probably a watermark of where the party should reasonably be if it is really gaining ground, the Lib Dems should be aiming for at least a gain of 100 seats in England. However, I think it will probably be more like 50, which will then be accompanied by claims of the victory of the century by party HQ. I won’t blame them for this – you have to celebrate any victory, big or small – but anything south of 50 seats should definitely be cause for alarm, and a review of overall approach should be taken.
In Scotland, I would advise extreme caution for the Lib Dems. Labour are going to lose hundreds of seats on the day, but I don’t expect many if any of them to go gold. Ironically, if they still used First Past the Post in Scottish locals, the Lib Dems could probably pick up a few via Labour’s downfall. Alas, under a PR system, the LDs will be lucky to keep what they’ve got north of the Tweed. Most of the seats will simply be SNP gains at the expense of Labour.
Wales won’t be great for the LD seat count either. These are harder to predict than the English and Scottish elections – the Tories could be in for some big gains, or we could see a flicker of hope for UKIP not having died completely. I think the former is more likely.
I think a good day for the Lib Dems look like this: overall, gains of over a 100 seats, most if not all coming from England with seat numbers in Scotland and Wales relatively steady. An okay day would be 50 seats gained overall, again, mostly from England. A bad day would be anything less than 30 seats gained overall, with losses in Scotland and Wales bringing the total down. A catastrophic day would be an overall loss of seats, with Scottish and Welsh losses cancelling out meagre gains in England.