A prolific reader of my blog, Comrade, left a short but interesting comment on my last post. He, once a Labour councillor left to join the LibDems, urged us to "bring on" the county elections. It made me think about who had most to gain, or lose, from that poll.
First thing to note is that it is not likely to be on the same day as a General Election and thus a much lower turnout may hit some majorities that were previously very high. And also being on the same day as the Euro elections may bring the right-wing vote out in much greater force. However, the statistics show some worries for all the parties.
In terms of marginal seats (those with a majority of less than 5%), the Tories hold 8 (out of 46), Labour have 5 (out of 22) and the LibDems have 6 (out of 14) - hence nearly half of the LibDem county group are vulnerable on quite small swings. Melton Constable has a LibDem majority of 0.02% (yes, a single vote) and the Tories in North Norfolk will be gunning for electoral revenge there. Kings Lynn South is held by the LibDems by 0.3% and East Depwade by 0.4% - both in areas with big swings back to the Tories in recent years. Clavering had a LibDem majority of 3% but the Tories won that back in a by-election last year so it may be difficult to hold. I would imagine at this stage that all four seats would be very difficult for them to hold. The LibDems also have a 0.6% majority in Aylsham (but a much better majority at the recent by-election) and a 2% lead in Cromer and both would be vulnerable to a Cameron surge. If the Tories do very well on polling day then Reepham (LibDem maj 7%) could also be at risk. Other LibDem seats should fare better - despite a fairly low 9% majority in Fakenham, the party are odds on to hold it. Their 22% majority in Eaton will look more vulnerable given the strides made by the Tories at City level, and a similar 22% majority in Thorpe Hamlet - their second safest seat - is under threat from the rampant Norwich Green Party who took the identical ward by 501 votes at City level.
Labour's urban outposts in Norfolk will face the test of a resurgant Tory Party next year as well. Great Yarmouth will see some pretty close fights - the semi-rural Lothingland Division has a Labour majority of just 0.5% for example. Thetford East (Labour maj 0.7%), Dereham South (Labour maj 3%), Caister (Labour maj 5%) and Gaywood North & Central (Labour maj 3%) would all become Tory seats based upon district results, let alone the opinion polls. And the news becomes worse for Labour - their 6% majority in Sprowston and 8% lead in Gaywood South (Kings Lynn) would currently both be wiped out. Breydon in Great Yarmouth had a Labour lead of 15% in 2005 and will certainly be top of the Great Yarmouth Tories hitlist, especially if Brandon Lewis is to be their next MP. It may even get worse than that, because a lot of very, very safe Labour seats in Norwich will also come into play on a low turnout. A 25% lead in Bowthorpe and a 22% lead in Catton Grove may also disappear if recent City elections are repeated and gains could be made by the Tories. Labour also hold seats in Lakenham, Mancroft and Wensum where the LibDems and Greens have since made City gains. Labour's county group could easily be reduced from 22 to 15 on a small swing back to the Tories and down to 10 if things go badly in Norwich.
The Greens, of course, start from a low base and should gain seats from Labour this time around. Town Close, despite the by-election win, won't be a guaranteed hold but Nelson should be pretty safe territory for them.
The Tories have most at risk, having most seats and an overall majority on the council - it would take just the loss of 4 seats for our overall majority to go. The LibDems will be looking no doubt at Long Stratton (Con maj 2%) and Diss (Con maj 4%) but given the massive Tory strides in South Norfolk, neither look vulnerable at the moment. They may rather fancy their chances in North Norfolk wheer the Tories currently lead by 4% in both Wells and Mundesley. On the outside, the LibDems may also choose to mount a strong challenge in Hellesdon (Con maj 8%) and Hoveton (Con maj 7%) but at the moment both look beyond their reach. Labour really have very few opportunities to make gains from the Tories - even a 0.7% Tory majority in the Broadland seat of Woodside looks a bit far fetched. Gorleston (Con maj 3%), Acle (Con maj 10%) and Old Catton (Con maj 7%) may all get Labour going but I don't think they stand a chance in those wards either.
So who are the likely winners and losers from this? The Tories look pretty secure and have plenty of chances to gains seats from both Labour and the LibDems. Few Tory Councillors will even be challenged by Labour, although a coupel of seats may have strong LibDem campaigns. I suspect we'll talking about the size of the Tory majority rather than if there will be one! The Labour Party pretty much face meltdown and their urban bases look set to fall; facing a Tory onslaught in GY, KL and Norwich (plus the Greens in Norwich too) they could be squeezed from all sides and could fall to third. The party with the biggest risk is the LibDems; on a good day they could hold seats and make a few gains, but they haven't had many good days recently. With the Greens stealing their clothes in Norwich and the rampant Tories in the county they could as easily be fighting the Greens for third place on county and they could fighting Labour for second. At the moment, I wouldn't want to be a LibDem strategist - over-stretch could cost them seats.
So that's it as I see it at the moment; things could change (and do) in politics) but I have tried to be honest. I'll let you guess the seats, but currently I think we'll see 54 Conservatives, 14 LibDems, 11 Labour and 5 Greens - an overall majority of 24 for the Tories.
The Tories have this election to win, Labour have it to lose ... but its the LibDems who should most fear the ballot box at the moment!