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Q&A: Will the local elections be a guide to how the General Election might go?

Elections will take place at 88 councils on Thursday.

This spring, local and general elections are being contested just weeks apart – a highly unusual political event.

Here, the Press Association finds out whether the local elections will be an indicator for how people will vote in June and what to look out for on the night.

Q: Where are the local elections taking place?On Thursday, elections will take place at 88 councils – all of those in Scotland and Wales and 34 in England, including 27 counties. There are 15,403 candidates contesting 4,851 seats. Of these, 107 will be unopposed.

There are also mayoral elections in Doncaster and North Tyneside as well as in six new devolved super-regions.

These large areas (Cambridgeshire and Peterborough; Greater Manchester; Liverpool City Region; Tees Valley; West Midlands; and West of England) will see mayoral elections for the first time. These mayors will enjoy a host of additional powers reaped from responsibilities devolved from central government, over issues ranging from policing to housing.

Some results will be declared in the early hours of Friday May 5 but most will come in during the day.

Q: How many people are eligible to vote?A provisional figure from the eight areas holding mayoral elections show 7,205,134 people are free to vote in Thursday’s poll. Turnout is likely to be considerably below this number and is often contingent on factors such as the weather.

Q: Will the electorate vote the same way in local elections and the General Election?The Conservatives are expected to win the most votes in both elections.

People usually vote for the opposition during local elections but this rule of thumb generally only holds true when the poll occurs in between general election cycles, according to Anthony Wells, research director at polling company YouGov.

He told the Press Association: “It matters who is in power and who is out of power, but that’s the sort of thing that is going to be upset by being very close to a General Election.”

He added the two times in modern politics that both local and general elections have happened weeks apart (1983 and 1987), the same party won both.

Q: Are the Conservatives expected to win a landslide in both elections?No – Mr Wells said he expects the Conservatives to win the most votes in the local elections but by a smaller percentage than in the General Election.

Polling data from April in Wales shows the Conservatives winning by two percentage points in the local elections and then by 10 points in the General Election a month later.

This mirrors what happened in 1983 when the Conservatives took just a three-point lead in the local elections nationally, and then Margaret Thatcher won a landslide majority the next month.

Q: What are the reasons for the disparity?Local issues are more important, says Mr Wells.

“There are people who actually do vote on local issues, who do vote on how well their council’s doing and whether they like their local councillor or not, so that will make a difference,” he said.

“Also, one of the main drivers of Labour losing support is Jeremy Corbyn and the Conservatives are obviously campaigning very hard on Theresa May personally.

“The fact that the votes this week aren’t going to put Corbyn or May in power, they will just put someone local in the town hall, will be another source of difference.

“If the Tory lead in the local elections is only five or six points, I think you’ll get a lot of people saying ‘look, it’s much closer than we think, maybe the polls showing big leads are wrong, Labour can win’,” he added.

Q: How well will Labour do?Professor Tony Travers, from the London School of Economics’ department of government, told the Press Association that if Labour lose the local elections, there is almost no chance of them winning the national vote a month later.

“It’s virtually unknown for an opposition party to win a general election when it hasn’t been getting quite high percentage votes in the local elections immediately before,” Prof Travers said.

On the night, watch out for the county councils of Derbyshire, Lancashire and Nottinghamshire to test the waters for Labour support.

Prof Travers said it would be bad news for Mr Corbyn’s party if they lost majority control of Derbyshire or failed to remain the largest party in the other two counties.

Q: And what about the Liberal Democrats?Expect the Liberal Democrats to put a spanner in the works too – historically they get their biggest successes at local elections and rumours of a Lib Dem fightback among Remain voters should help them gain more council seats.

However, an increase in Lib Dem vote share in the local elections alone will not indicate more MPs in June, Mr Wells said – it matters where that support comes from.

“Is that support really concentrated in places that voted Remain, places that have got history of having a Lib Dem MP? If that’s the case, they will probably win lots of MPs.

“Or do they just do quite well everywhere, in which case they will find that increasing support quite hard to translate into MPs.”

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