In Depth

Why the 5 May local elections matter

From Labour to Ukip – next week's ballots will be a crucial test for all of the political parties standing

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Voters across the UK will head to the polls next week in a set of elections that will deliver a verdict on the state of all the main political parties.

On Thursday 5 May, the public will choose who it wants to represent them in local councils in England, the Scottish Parliament, as well as the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assembly.

They will also select the next Mayor of London, the London Assembly, and local police and crime commissioners

"[It] is a big day for British democracy," says Channel 4 News. "The elections will be seen as a big test for all the main parties a year after the last general election."

Researchers at the London School of Economics say local elections are especially important as they are a significant indicator of who will form the government after the next general election.

Here's why the results will matter for each political party:

Conservatives

"These local contests come at a time in the election cycle when the governing party is traditionally at its most vulnerable at the ballot box," says ITV political correspondent Daniel Hewitt. Opponents will be seeking to take advantage of Tory divisions over Europe, as well as the recent in-fighting over the welfare bill that triggered the resignation of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

David Cameron will be hoping to hold onto all of his party's current councils and to gain control of some Labour-held councils, such as Southampton and Harlow, says LSE. It predicts key battles will be fought in Thurrock, Swindon, Crawley, Watford, Welwyn Hatfield, Woking and Trafford.  

Labour

Jeremy Corbyn is preparing for his toughest electoral test since becoming leader of the Labour Party, but he remains confident of a positive result next Thursday. A victory in the London mayoral race is almost guaranteed, bar a major upset, with Sadiq Khan having led the polls for months.

But Professor John Curtice, president of the British Polling Council, predicts that Labour is on course for a historic defeat in the rest of the UK. "Such an outcome will simply confirm that, as yet at least, Mr Corbyn has yet to find a formula that makes Labour look as though it could return to power," he told the Daily Telegraph earlier this week.

Corbyn's opponents "will want to use a poor result next week as a weapon against him, so it will be even more important to analyse the result carefully", notes Channel 4 News. Researchers predict key councils will be Thurrock, Norwich, Exeter, Plymouth and Southampton.

Others

The elections will also serve as litmus test for Tim Farron, who became leader of the Liberal Democrats in the wake of the party's disastrous showing in the general election. He is hoping to make the party's first net gain in councillors since 2008, says the Press Association, but new figures show that nearly one in ten councils will have no Lib Dem candidates on their ballot papers.

National Assembly elections in Wales could well see Ukip win its first seats in the country, as a third of the assembly's members are chosen by proportional representation. But even if that happens, it "won't be evidence of a big surge in support nationally", says Channel 4 News. Leader Nigel Farage disagrees, predicting a "significant breakthrough" for his party across the UK. 

The results of the Holyrood elections are easier to predict, with the Scottish National Party on course for another significant victory. Leader Nicola Sturgeon is enjoying public and party support that Cameron or Corbyn "would die for", says The Guardian. "There's no chance of an upset."

It remains unclear if Natalie Bennet will stand for re-election as leader of the Green Party in England and Wales when her term ends later this year, so May's elections could be a final verdict on her leadership. She told the Daily Politics last week that people were tired of their councils and wanted a "new Green broom sweeping through these dusty corridors". 

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