In May of this year, a large chunk of the local English councils, 36 Metropolitan boroughs, 194 Second-tier district authorities, 45 unitary authorities and various mayoral posts, will all be up for grabs.
As it stands at the moment, the Conservative Party controls about 46% of council seats in the UK with Labour on 21% and the Liberal Democrats on 19%. But since England lacks a devolved government of it's own (to the annoyance of the English Democrats) these elections will be the best chance for any of the smaller parties based in England to really make some gains.
Labour - For Labour they will be going into the English elections with some momentum having made gains during the 2010 local elections (+14 Councils and +414 Councillors) which ran parallel with the General Election. But they will be hoping to capitalise on the Spending Cuts made by the Coalition and the huge drop in Lib Dem support in the opinion polls to gain as many councils as they can. Apart from the obvious reason of wanting more seats to push their policies on a local level, a big win for Labour in the Local elections could be the push they need to de-stabilise the Liberal Democrats from the Coalition and dispel the argument that a new Lib/Lab/others coalition was anti-English as they could easily argue that the local elections show they have a good support among the English. For 'Red Ed' Miliband these elections are just as much a test of his leadership as the Devolved elections, as even when losing the General election Gordon Brown's Labour party still managed to make gains.(Current UK council standing - 4379 councillors, Rank: 2nd)
English Democrats - For the English Democrats, these elections have the same weight as the Scottish Parliament's are to the SNP or the Welsh Assembly's are to Plaid Cymru. Currently they hold 4 seats (1-Blackburn and Darwen, 1-Calderdale and 2-Peterborough) and the mayoralty of Doncaster but will be hoping that the 64000 votes they scored in the General election will carry on into the Councils which could see them make some nice gains for their party. If they make a significant enough gain to enter an Opposition or Coalition partner on a council it will be a real test for the bigger parties to deal with the growth in English Nationalism without alienating voters. A question which could effect English Democrat success is to whether or not the Alliance for Democracy, the electoral alliance between the EngDems, the Christian Party, the Jury Team and Veritas will still remain for the local election as they will then be able to pull their votes together to help each other in certain areas. (Current UK council standing: 4 Councillors, Rank: 26th
Respect - The Respect Party, most commonly known for it's former MP George Galloway, will be hoping to build on its local base having seen their Commons representation lost in the General Election. Having scored 0.1% (33251 votes) of the total UK vote in the General Election with only 10 candidates (over half the EngDem vote with a 1/10 of the candidates) and currently chalking up 13 councillors, the Respect Party is one which may see itself becoming more prominent in it's strongholds. The main problem for th party would be a sudden surge in labour support against the Coalition Government which could see their seats decrease. If they however can sttrike a deal with the Green party and perhaps the TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) they could benefit from the 'left of Labour' vote. (Current - 13 Councillors UK rank: 14th)
Liberal - The Liberal Party, a splinter from the birth of the Liberal Democrats, is one of the more successful small parties in council terms boasting 25 councillors at the moment. Although it doesn't sound huge it does put them ahead of UKIP (Second biggest Euro party and have two lord), the English Democrats, The Scottish Greens, (have 2 MSPs) Mebyon Kernow, The Libertarians and Respect (used to have an MP) to name a few. The Liberal Party are alos a prime candidate to take advantage of the anti-Libdem sentiment by offering a viable, non-Labour Liberal alternative. If they can organise a solid campaign they could look to gain a number of seats from the Liberal Democrats and perhaps encourage a few defections after the elections if the LibDems take a harsh beating from the electorate. They have had some dealings with the Alliance for Democracy, but it would only best wise to link up with other parties if they felt it would significantly boost their chance of winning seats as the Libdems are currently being punished for their own link-up with the Tories. (Current - 25 Councillors UK rank: 11th)
British National Party - The BNP, who are currently going through internal conflicts will be hoping to make some gains after taking a bit of a beating during the 2010 campaigns. For Nick Griffin whose current leadership and succession plans are under threat from internal factions will most likely hope to make some gains to show the party is still making ground but not enough to introduce to many possible contenders for his leadership, while he may be an MEP, a Euro-sceptic party may prefer to have their leader be the Leader of the Opposition on a local Council until they get enough votes to make it into the Commons.(Current - 55 Councillors UK rank 8th)
Green - The Green Party of England and Wales will be focused on Norwich and Norfolk where they have been slowly building a stronghold of votes and the Brighton and Hove City Council election where they are currently third on the council but where they elected their first MP. These local elections could be a chance to form some electoral pacts with other similarly inclined parties to help bolster a green-friendly bloc among councils. If the Greens fail to capitalise on the election of Caroline Lucas it will make her election seem more like a fluke in the eyes of the wider UK electorate. (Current - 122 councillors UK rank: 7th *does not include green parties of Ccotland and Northern Ireland)
For the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives this will be a defensive campaign, being in Government and being the ones to handle the deficit will no doubt make them unpopular with chunks of voters, if they can maintain control of what councils they have it will make supporting their agenda much easier on a local level. The Coalition may hope that any losses they do suffer will be to other parties rather than Labour so as stem a Labour revival with a wall of minor parties.
Who do you think will gain the most this year? any predictions at all? please leave them in the comments