The Labour Party is on course to trounce the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in tomorrow’s Birmingham City Council elections, according to a local authority expert.
The city council’s head of policy, Tony Smith, is forecasting that Labour will easily make the five gains it needs to oust the coalition, and could end up with almost two-thirds of seats in the council chamber in what would be the party’s best performance for 15 years.
Mr Smith, a widely respected elections expert, traditionally publishes eve-of-poll predictions for the media based on recent voting trends.
This time Mr Smith says Labour will gain between six and ten seats from the Conservatives and between seven and ten from the Liberal Democrats, making an overall gain of between 14 and 21 seats.
He adds however that Labour will be doing “very well” if its gains hit the top end of his projections, or even exceeds the 21 figure.
At the moment, Labour has 56 council seats, the Conservatives 39 and Liberal Democrats 24. There is one Respect councillor in Sparkbrook, but the party is not defending the seat, which is almost certain to be won by Labour.
The last time Labour held more than 80 council seats in Birmingham was at the end of the 1990s, just before the election of Tony Blair’s first government.
On this occasion, the 80-seat target figure could be significant because two-thirds of councillors can block the budget and policy plans put forward by an elected mayor. Birmingham will decide in a referendum on the same day as the council elections whether the city should be governed by a mayor.
In his analysis, Mr Smith predicts: “Given the gains made by Labour in last year’s elections and the challenges facing the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in Government, there is a widespread expectation that Labour will make more gains this year and achieve a majority on the council, taking full control for the first time since 2002-3.”
Forty seats are up for grabs, one-third of the council. But Labour is only defending eight seats, while the coalition is defending a total of 31 seats.
National opinion polls have recorded sharp swings of almost 10 per cent to Labour from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats since these seats were last contested in 2008.
A number of senior politicians could lose their seats if the opinion polls are replicated locally, including Lib Dem cabinet members Martin Mullaney in Moseley and Ayoub Khan in Aston. Tory cabinet member Les Lawrence could be vulnerable in Northfield along with senior Conservative councillors John and Deirdre Alden in Harborne and Edgbaston.
Mr Smith adds a cautionary note: “National trends are only ever a very rough guide to what might happen locally – especially at the level of individual wards. Local factors mean that local areas will respond differently to national politics and policies and the personal vote for particularly popular or long-established candidates is always a factor in specific wards.
“The policies and performance of the city council’s leadership and local ward issues are also of course a factor (though not to the extent that supporters of a healthy local democracy might wish!). However given the large size of the Birmingham electorate the outcomes for the city as a whole often follow the national trends quite closely.”
“Given the opinion polls, the Conservatives will hope to hold on to Edgbaston, Bournville and Northfield but they will be doing better than the polls suggest if their losses are limited to the six wards lost last year plus Stockland Green and Oscott.
“The Liberal Democrats will look to hold the theoretically safe seats of Hall Green, Acocks Green and Yardley South and in so doing improve on last year’s performance.”