Final thoughts from the campaign trail

It's all about managing expectations. Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East and former business minister Pat McFadden said as much during last Sunday's Politics Show (Sunday, 1 May).

What he was 'managing down' was any assumption that his party was about to enjoy an 'extravaganza' in Thursday's local elections.

But the other parties on the programme were managing expectations as well.

West Worcestershire's Conservative MP Harriett Baldwin was 'managing-up' her party's prospects. Despite all the pain of the spending cuts and the sluggish economic recovery, she said Tory voters had known what to expect from David Cameron's government so this may not exactly be a disaster for the Conservatives.

Lib Dems 'independent'

Meantime the Liberal Democrats' leader in the West Midlands, the MP for Birmingham Yardley, John Hemming reminded us his was still 'an independent party'. Perhaps this helps explain how it is that they can work with the Conservatives in coalitions not just at Westminster but in Birmingham, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Tewkesbury; and with Labour in an 'agreement' in Solihull.

So where exactly should we look for the great election dramas this week? To paraphrase one of my heroes in journalism, the American writer and humorist Damon Runyon, 'why make guesses on Tuesday when on Friday we shall all know?'

And of course, this blog post has a life long after the time of writing. So I am on guard against those dreaded hostages to fortune.

Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption Will Stoke-on-Trent deliver the headlines?

So if you're looking for speculation and educated, or uneducated, guesses you have come to the wrong place!

Stoke to deliver

But we can safely say Stoke-on-Trent will deliver headlines, not least because in common with other unitary authorities it is having an all-out election, with the current contingent of 60 councillors being replaced by a leaner council comprising 44 members.

There was a time during the 1990s when Labour held every single seat on the council.

Since then of course, we have seen what Stoke's Democracy Commission described as the collapse of party politics as we know it, and the rise of the BNP which at one stage held nine council seats. Not surprisingly the authority itself has been under no overall control.

If Labour is battling reassert itself in local government, Stoke is one of the first places where you would expect to see it.

Conservatives vulnerable?

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Image caption Fierce contest for votes in Shropshire

A fierce contest is in prospect in another unitary authority, Telford and Wrekin in Shropshire. It currently has a minority Conservative administration with the party currently short by just one seat.

But with every seat here up for grabs, Labour will be fighting hard for the 11 more seats it would need for control.

Other places where Conservative administrations could be vulnerable to Labour swings include North Warwickshire and Walsall. Like all the giant metropolitan councils, Walsall will be voting in thirds which generally limits the scope for dramatic changes of control.

Pat McFadden acknowledged Labour will probably be unable to recapture Dudley from the Conservatives and Birmingham from the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, 'in one bite'. Even so, they would need just five more seats to replace the Tories as the largest single party on Europe's biggest local authority.

All down hill?

The difficulty for the Conservatives in terms of how the results are perceived is that the last time these particular seats were up for election was four years ago which turned out to be something of a high-water mark in terms of the party's general support. So now any reversal in their fortunes would be accentuated.

It could be one of those occasions when comparisons are odious for the Tories. But by one of those strange political paradoxes, despite the general trend, they're battling to regain control in Solihull.

They are just three seats short of an overall majority, so it would not take too much of a slump in support in the many Lib Dem-Conservative marginal wards for that ruling Labour-Liberal Democrat 'agreement' to be terminated.

The other sets of numbers we can all agree about is that more than four million voters in our region will have at least the chance to elect 986 councillors to serve on 31 local authorities in the West Midlands alone.

Coming up

I'll be bringing regular updates during Vote 2011 from 11.35pm on Thursday night on BBC One and throughout Friday in Midlands Today.

Stay close to your BBC local radio station for developments in your immediate area.

Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption Patrick Burns leads campaign discussion

And then of course we'll be reflecting all the excitement, and the implications for our part of the country in the Politics Show at the earlier time of 11am on Sunday, 8 May 2011 on BBC One. I'll be joined live by the Conservative MP for Tamworth in Staffordshire Christopher Pincher; the Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak Steve McCabe; and the Liberal Democrat MP for Solihull Lorely Burt.

I hope you'll join us too.