Labour told: gain 1,000 seats in council elections or you've failed

Labour needs to gain 1,000 seats in next month's council elections in England to show it is back in business under Ed Miliband, experts said yesterday.

Click HERE to upload graphic (59k jpg)

Senior Labour figures have played down the party's prospects ahead of Mr Miliband's first nationwide electoral test since becoming leader last September. They have claimed the party would do well to gain 600 seats.

But John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said Labour needs to emerge with 1,000 more seats just to go back to where it stood in 1999, when the same councils which hold elections on 5 May went to the polls. The last time these seats were contested in 2007, Labour's fortunes were at a low ebb as Tony Blair's time as Prime Minister drew to a close. Labour won only a 26 per cent national equivalent share of the vote, with the Tories on 40 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 24 per cent.

Colin Rallings, professor of politics at Plymouth University, said: "If Labour does not make 1,000 gains, it is a failure."

The Independent's latest monthly "poll of polls" suggests that Mr Miliband is on track. Labour is on 40 per cent (down one point on February's score), the Conservatives on 36 per cent (up one point) and the Liberal Democrats on 13 per cent (unchanged). These figures would give Labour an overall majority of 44 if repeated at a general election fought under the current first-past-the-post system.

However, there is no guarantee that Labour will clear the psychologically important 40 per cent hurdle next month because many people vote differently in local and general elections.

Analysis of council by-elections by Professor Rallings and Professor Michael Thrasher at Plymouth suggests that Labour will win 38 per cent of the town hall votes and the Tories between 34 and 38 per cent. They say the "$64,000 question" will be the performance of the Liberal Democrats, who have long scooped up protest votes in council elections but will find it harder now that they are in government.

Elections take place in 22 of the 25 Liberal Democrat-run authorities, and the party is bound to lose ground to Labour in the north, where it has often positioned itself as to the left of Labour.

The Plymouth study suggests that Nick Clegg's party will do better overall than its current opinion poll rating, winning between 16 and 22 per cent of the votes. The wide margin reflects the difficulty of predicting the results in areas, mainly in the south, where the Liberal Democrats and the Tories go head-to-head. It could make the difference between a respectable defeat for Mr Clegg – losing between 200 and 300 seats – and a disastrous one of losses between 700 and 800.

A meltdown could put huge internal pressure on Mr Clegg. His party has often won parliamentary seats by building a base on local authorities. Losing hundreds of councillors would put that process into reverse and could spark calls by grassroots activists for the party to pull out of the Coalition.

The "poll of polls" suggests that Mr Clegg is a drag on his own party's performance, as his personal ratings remain poor. Professor Curtice, who compiled the figures, said: "There seems little doubt that Mr Clegg is wise to adopt in recent weeks what appears to be a rather more assertive role within the Coalition. He badly needs to reverse the negative view of both him and his party."

However, Mr Miliband is still struggling to make a favourable impact on voters. Professor Curtice said: "Labour might well benefit from a protest vote on 5 May but, like similar performances by the party in mid-term elections in the 1980s, this may mask doubts about Labour's own abilities."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Management Support Assistant

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Railway Museum, the largest of its ...

Sauce Recruitment: FP&A Analyst -Home Entertainment

£250 - £300 per day: Sauce Recruitment: (Rolling) 3 month contractA global en...

Recruitment Genius: Sales and Account Manager - OTE £80,000+

£40000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - Kent - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - ne...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project