The election is about cuts, car parking and cappuccino

The local council elections are always a timely remember that they are - simply local.

Image copyright BBC elvis
Image caption Parking is an issue for traders in Gedling

They'll be much talk about how Thursday's results are a verdict on the first year of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition.

But on the streets, it is revealing how parochial the council elections can be. I've been taking a close look at Gedling, a suburban borough just north of Nottingham.

It's one of those classic political barometers that swings from left to right; and back again, depending on the mood of the voters.

When I met café owner Tony Labbate, I was hoping to get an insight into what people are saying over a cappuccino about David Cameron, Nick Clegg or Ed Miliband. No chance.

Customers driven away

Tony wanted to bend my ear about the introduction of car park charges by the Conservatives running Gedling Borough Council.

"Before the car park charges came into place, I used to have two members of staff working with me; a full-time chef and a waitress, now I'm on my own because I can't afford to pay their wages," he told me.

Tony believes the new charges are driving the shoppers away. He's seen his takings down by 40%. Chatting to other traders on Carlton Hill's parade of shops, it soon becomes clear that Tony is not alone.

It cost me 50p at one of the council's pay and display car parks for two-and-a-half hours. You may think that's a pretty good deal, yet the issue of car parking charges has been at the centre of a huge political bust-up.

It even featured in the general election. Labour insiders claim the fall-out from last year's row helped Vernon Coaker hold onto his parliamentary seat, despite a strong Tory challenge.

Labour opportunity?

Image copyright BBC elvis
Image caption Labour hopes rise around parking charges

Labour in Gedling again sense an opportunity. They ran the council during the Blair glory days, but their power base on the local council has slipped back.

They're hoping for a revival, with parking charges an issue they can use to hit the Tories again.

"It's been a hot potato because businesses are clearly suffering," says Councillor John Clarke, leader of the council's Labour group.

"We've got Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury's. They offer shoppers free car parking and it sucks away people from this type of area, where the shops are struggling to survive or have already closed down."

Labour want to scrap the charges the Conservatives levied in response to a cash squeeze the council, like so many others, was facing.

Tories on back foot?

In the last big round of local elections four years ago, the Tories made huge gains from Labour. Now the Conservatives, with David Cameron in Downing Street, are on the defensive.

"We embarked on extensive consultation," Councillor Roland Spencer, Gedling's Conservative leader, told me.

"The people told us they wanted to retain their services and keep the Council Tax down. We brought in the parking charges to help fund that. That's want we've done, and it's worked out very well."

The Conservatives have 28 seats, three times as many as Labour or the Lib Dems.

But it's in the commuter village Burton Joyce that you discover how politically marginal this borough can be.

Narrow margins

Could there be a repeat of the last elections, when the Conservatives won a seat over the Liberal Democrats by just five votes?

Gedling's Lib Dem leader Tony Gillam is preparing for a coalition backlash.

"It's going to make it more difficult for us, and for the Tories," he says.

"The last time we had an adverse national position like this was in the early 1990s. We managed to survive that locally and we'll do it again. But we are bound to have problems."

When the results emerge, Gedling may be one of those headline-making councils.

If Gedling starts the swing back to Labour, it might not solely be down to coalition cuts. Just remember Tony Labbate and his anger over parking charges.