Can Labour make a dent in South East Tory heartland?

Ballot box
Image caption Can Labour make an impact in the Tory heartland in South East England?

The local elections on 3 May are only three weeks away but what will they mean for the South East?

At the local elections in May 2011 Labour made a slight resurgence and took control of Gravesham from the Conservatives.

They also made progress in next door Thanet where the Conservatives lost six seats to Labour and the council to no overall control.

In Medway and Dartford, however, the Conservatives actually gained seats; in the latter it was at the direct cost of Labour.

They also held onto Dover, another key Labour target.

The Lib Dems had a torrid time.

They narrowly clung onto power in Eastbourne but suffered heavy defeats losing seats in the wards of Sovereign and Upperton.

But they had a really bad night when they lost control of Lewes Council.

Their loss was, literally, the Conservative's gain.

The Tories scraped a majority with 22 seats, to the Liberal Democrats' 18 seats.

It was a huge blow to the Lib Dems who lost control of the council for the first time since 1991.

Battle grounds

So, at these elections Labour will hope to make bigger inroads in the South East and the Liberal Democrats need to at least hold on to the wards they have.

There are five councils holding elections.

In Sussex there's Crawley Borough Council and Hastings.

While in Kent, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells are up for grabs, and in Surrey, it's Tandridge District Council.

Image caption Hastings could be a key election battle ground with Labour keen to increase its majority

One of the most interesting battle grounds is Hastings Borough Council.

It's the only one in the South East which is Labour-led. The current breakdown is 17 Labour, 14 Conservative and one Liberal Democrat.

Labour will be very keen to hold onto Hastings and will hope to increase its majority.

The Lib Dems with only one seat could be in danger of being wiped out.

The Conservatives, who hold the parliamentary seat of Hastings and Rye, would obviously love to win enough seats to give them control at local and national level.

Crawley could also be interesting. There are 37 councillors and the current break down is 24 Conservative, 13 Labour.

Labour controlled Crawley between 1973 and 2006. Since then it's gone from Conservative to no overall control, and back to Conservative-led.

As a third of the seats are up for election it's technically possible that the Tories could lose control to Labour or perhaps no party would have overall control.

Fight for seats

Kent is an intriguing county to look at, as its councils show both the patchy nature of Labour's attack, and the Conservative sweeping up of Lib Dem votes in the South.

The north and east Kent coast contains several marginal councils with a straight fight between Labour and the Conservatives.

Both councils up for election are Conservative-led.

Image caption Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is regarded as ultra-safe for the Conservatives

In Maidstone Borough Council the Tories need 28 seats to maintain a majority and currently have 30, having made a net gain of two seats at the expense of the Lib Dems last year.

The Conservatives will hope to maintain their majority but their coalition partners at Westminster will hope to win back seats.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is ultra-safe for the Conservatives - they have 39 of the 48 seats.

The Lib Dems have six and Labour one.

At the last election in May 2011 UKIP won its first ever borough council seat in Tunbridge Wells.

Victor Webb, the party's local leader, defeated the sitting Tory, Barry Edwards, in Rusthall and will want to build on that.

In Surrey, Tandridge District Council is also Conservative-led with 34 Tory councillors, six Liberal Democrats, and two Independents.

Since 1973 this council has alternated between Conservative and no overall control - there's unlikely to be any change of control this time around.

Gains and losses

So there's unlikely to be any big change in the electoral map after these local elections.

What will be interesting will be the numbers.

Given the downturn for the Conservatives in the polls nationally, will they be punished locally?

Will Labour make the much needed gains to show it is capable of a comeback in the South East?

And will the Lib Dems hold onto the seats it has or will the party pay the price for coalition politics at Westminster?

The biggest loser could be democracy itself - with many people feeling disillusioned with the main political parties and, with no mayoral contest here (as in many of the major cities), I expect turn-out will be low and that could impact across the council areas.