As few as two seats changing hands could lead to the balance of power moving on Calderdale Council when the borough goes to the polls on May 2.
Calderdale is a hung council, as it has been for most of its 45-year history, but that can mean just a few seats changing hands can have a big effect.
It is possible it may happen this year if Labour, the ruling group on the council but without an overall majority, could gain a net two seats.
The council has 51 councillors and the make-up as of April 2019 is: Labour 24, Conservatives 20, Liberal Democrats six and Independents one.
This Labour are only defending six seats to the Conservatives ten – which means it is also possible for the Conservatives to reach the magic number of 26 for a majority too, but do do so they would have to pull off almost a clean sweep.
There is another totally unknown factor in this year’s elections – whether Brexit will have an effect and how that might split, or whether purely local concerns will be uppermost in voters’ minds.
Last year’s elections, while not revealing clearly where UKIP’s former vote went, produced the closest races – 150 vote or less winning margins – in three wards, Elland, Ryburn and Skircoat, Labour’s Colin Hutchinson pulling off the shock of the poll by taking Skircoat for Labour for the first time since Calderdale was formed in 1974.
Mayor of Calderdale, Marcus Thompson, is retiring from the ward at the election with a new Conservative candidate stepping in to defend the seat in a poll which might show whether Labour’s 2018 win was a one-off or a changing picture.
Labour’s Angie Gallagher managed to retain Elland in 2018 – a key moment and a very close result – while the Conservatives gained back Ryburn when Steven Leigh beat former Tory and latterly Independent Rob Holden into second place by 149 votes. Mr Holden is standing again – can he run incumbent Conservative Robert Thornber a similarly close race?
This time around Labour will certainly be targeting Luddenden Foot and Sowerby Bridge, being defended for the Conservatives by Nicola May and Mike Payne respectively, having won both last year when Luddenden Foot was a gain from the Conservatives.
By virtue of defending the lion’s share of seats this time out, the Conservatives have the harder task but will be confident of retaining strongholds like Northowram and Shelf, Hipperholme and Lightcliffe, Brighouse (being defended by leader Scott Benton) and Rastrick – particularly with the controversial Local Plan having a major effect on the lower valley.
If the Local Plan effect also grips Elland, they will believe veteran Conservative John Ford will hold his seat.
If years since the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition nationally are the new norm, Labour will be confident of holding Todmorden and Calder wards despite a Green Party presence and the knowledge that in the not-too-distant past Liberal Democrats and Conservatives held seats there.
In Halifax, Labour leader Tim Swift will look to hold Town ward, Faisal Shoukat Park ward and Bryan Smith his Ovenden seat. Illingworth and Mixenden sees a new Labour candidate step in aiming to hold the seat vacated by retiring veteran Barry Collins. The seat is likely to stay with the party.
Liberal Democrat leader James Baker will look to secure his own Warley seat, buoyed by Amanda Parsons-Hulse’s success in winning the ward from Labour last year, and will surely be eyeing up at least Greetland and Stainland, the seat held by retiring Conservative Chris Pearson but a ward held comfortably by Marilyn Greenwood for the Lib Dems in 2018.
In 2018 very few seats changed hands, each party gaining a net one.
This year there is also a Green Party presence in every ward and the Liberal Democrats are standing in all but one.
Particular wards to watch will be Luddenden Foot and Sowerby Bridge – either changing hands could see the pendulum swing so these could be key.
As in every election, it is of course the voting citizens of Calderdale who will have the final say in every seat.