From a 'historic' belting to what?

Back from Manchester, back from Prestatyn and Wrexham where those who live and breathe local politics can't wait until Thursday and where those who don't, well, couldn't care less.

I've written next to nothing here about local elections. I wasn't sure I could add much to what we know and have reported elsewhere, to be blunt. All the signs are that Labour will do very well. The other parties picked up so many unexpected seats last time, they could lose control of councils just by losing a ward here and a ward there come Thursday.

Rhodri Morgan was honest enough to admit in 2008 that Labour had taken "a belting" from voters. He also said - despite predictions from some at the time that this was a "historic" result that had put an end to Labour dominance in Wales - that in fact, Labour would bounce back the next time round. Rhodri Morgan 1 Commentariat 0?

But guilt has got to me - so what else do we know?

That - with thanks to the colleague with a calculator and a glazed look in her eyes - Labour are fielding 887 candidates. That's up by 11 from 2008, the year of that "belting".

There'll be 571 Conservative candidates, compared with 514 last time round and Plaid are putting up more candidates too - up from 517 to 558. The same goes for independent candidates - 651 standing compared to 600 four years ago.

So which party stands out? The Liberal Democrats. The number of candidates taking the Lib Dem message to the doorsteps has fallen by around a quarter. In 2008 they had 436 would-be councillors standing in their name. This time they've mustered only 341. My colleague Vaughan Roderick stopped Nick Clegg in his tracks with the simple assertion that - up-beat as he was seeking to be - people can't vote for his party if there's no-one standing for them in their patch.

In Lib Dem led Wrexham yesterday there was talk of deals already struck between Labour and enough independents to see them back in charge of the largest town in North Wales. One independent I spoke to was clear that if the numbers fell that way, he'd be happy to help Labour into power. Otheres were sensing that the anti-coalition backlash was more apparent in headlines than on doorsteps and less certain that Labour will have it all their own way.

This morning's opinion poll from the Wales Governance Centre and YouGov suggests, at least, that they should. It is brimming with good news for Labour. If there was a general election the poll suggests they'd get 50% of the Welsh vote. If there was an Assembly election they'd get 48% in the constituencies (though there seem to be some strange findings when it comes to the regional lists that I don't pretend to understand.)

There are local council elections - and the poll reports support for Labour at 48%, up a whopping 21% on 2008. Back then, there was talk of the result as 'historic, as marking a sea change in the future of four party politics in Wales. This time this poll suggests - and those who've been out knocking doors suggest - that Labour will regain much of the ground lost.

Surprised? You can't be. Labour have (wisely) managed expectations throughout this campaign but with the UK coalition finding more frying pans and fires than you thought possible in the six weeks or so since the budget, with Plaid in a period of rethinking/rebuilding/reorganising, if they don't regain vast swathes of the ground they lost four years ago, they'd be the first to question why not.

I'll go on.

Carwyn Jones remains the most popular political leader in Wales - (he scored an average of 4.7 on a 0 - 10 popularity scale). Leanne Wood - with the advantage of having just been through a leadership election - averaged 3.9, just ahead of Ed Miliband at 3.8. Kirsty Williams scores 3.5. The problem for Andrew R T Davies with his score of 3.0 (sandwiched between David Cameron at 3.1 and Nick Clegg who scores 2.7) isn't just that he's the least popular Welsh leader. The problem is this conclusion from the pointy heads at the Wales Governance Centre: "Andrew RT Davies has yet to make a favourable impression. Not only does he remain anonymous to many voters; those who are aware of him are not very impressed. Indeed, even among Conservative supporters in this survey, more disliked than liked him".

I've just spoken to the man himself whose advice to me - and to you - is not to set much store by this one opinion poll. Yes, presenting your image and your brand is tough in a country where most people still get their news via London newspapers and media but on his travels around Wales what's he's finding is that "the initials RT are out there and well known and believe me, I get a positive feel." Janet Finch Saunders was royally - and loyally - "flabbergasted". What about a poll of his own group in the Assembly? What would that give Mr Davies? "A ten" he said, rather inviting hacks with a quiet moment to start ringing around.

One more finding in the poll that will be interesting to compare with Thursday's "poll that counts". 15% of those who talked to YouGov said they'd vote for independent 'or other' candidates - down 13% on 2008 when Independent and other councillors outnumbered Labour in terms of councillors elected.

I'm not sure it's entirely clear to everyone whether that hard-working, long-standing bloke they always vote for is independent, or whether some of those who told the pollsters they were voting for a mainstream party actually mean they're voting for that bloke who they think is blue, red, yellow or green but is, on paper, independent.

That really bothers many of you. I'll quote one Email in my inbox that rages against one "group who are called independents but actually behave as a party, accepting a whip etc". He was from Carmarthen and asking "how does an elector know if a candidate is independent in the normal linguistic sense or Independant in the sense of a political group? I'm certain that there is confusion and the independent group (often called the independent party!!) are picking up votes under the impression that they vote independently!"

If you have any advice, you're welcome to share it. Just make it before Thursday.