The local elections in Hillingdon, in which 65 council seat across 22 wards are up for grabs, look set to be a crucial test for both major parties.
The ruling Conservative group, led by councillor Raymond Puddifoot MBE, will be hoping to maintain their control of the borough, which they have held since 1998.
Labour meanwhile, led by councillor Peter Curling, will be aiming to not only hold its seats but also make inroads into Tory territory.
Cllr Curling said: “For 20 years, the Conservative Party has been in control of Hillingdon Council, but for the first time since then, there is a real feeling on the ground that Labour could finally take back control.”
In the borough’s most recent elections in 2014 the Tories won 42 seats, leaving 23 to Labour and with other parties represented on the council, the Liberal Democrat and UKIP votes having collapsed in recent years.
This result would normally indicate that Tory dominance is set to continue some time, but there are signs that Labour could be on course to gain ground and possibly even take a majority of the borough’s seats.
Hillingdon is also the home borough of two of the rival parties’ most important figures: the foreign secretary Boris Johnson MP and Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell MP whose presence, Cllr Curling claims, could be crucial.
Writing on the Labour List website he said: “With a popular MP in John McDonnell, and waning support for Boris in Uxbridge where many of the marginal council seats are, many of the wards that we haven’t won before are in play.”
If true this could see Labour increase its support beyond its power base in the largely working class Hayes area into more affluent wards around Ruislip.
Cllr Curling’s predication would replicate the trend of last year’s general election in which an increased turnout saw both major parties increase their total number of votes in Hillingdon, but with Labour the greatest beneficiary.
Mr McDonnell’s Hayes and Harlington constituency saw an increase in the Labour vote of over 4000, which boosted the shadow chancellor’s majority from 15,000 to over 18,000.
Labour also gained an additional 7000 votes in Mr Johnson’s constituency and more than 6000 more votes in the Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner constituency, half of which is in Hillingdon.
If these trends were replicated on May 3 it could see Labour take a number of council seats, possible enough to win overall control of the borough.
This could even mean that Cllr Puddifoot himself is at risk of losing his seat in Ickenham.
However this pattern is unlikely to be replicated too closely in a local election in which turnout is unlikely to be anything close to that seen last year.
Cllr Puddifoot rubbished Mr Curling’s claims, saying that Labour claims it is likely to win control of the borough in every election in reality rarely increases support outside of its core wards around “fortress Hayes.”
Much of this will depend on voter turnout.
A lower turnout could favour the Tories who may find it easier to hold on to their existing voters in one of the few London boroughs to have voted for Brexit and where Cllr Puddifoot claims some residents may be wary of Labour’s national leadership.
The Tories are also emphasising their record in office.
Labour’s best hopes meanwhile will lie in trying to convince enough new voters to turn out, a difficult task given the lower stakes and media profile of council elections when compared to general elections.
Mr Curling’s party will seek to do so by campaigning on local issues at stake including housing, road maintenance, anti-social behaviour and social care and by emphasising the youth and diversity of its candidates, almost half of whom are from ethnic minority groups and one of whom is a young trans woman.
Both parties are also well aware that their respective performances in the borough could indicate broader London-wide and national trends.
On a national level the Tories holding Hillingdon comfortably could well mean that Labour’s advance since the last general election has stalled indicating better prospects for the Tories at Westminster.
On the other hand clear Labour advances in the borough would signal that the party’s progress is continuing apace and could be on course for victory at the next general election.
WHAT THEY SAID
Cllr Curling said: “The Conservatives will probably throw as much money as they can towards protecting their control over this borough, but it is Labour that has the energy and people onside.
“Every weekend, we have dozens of activists out campaigning across the borough, talking to people and spreading our vision of a co-operative council built on mutualism and listening to residents – not simply telling them what they think they want to hear”.
Cllr Puddifoot said: “Hillingdon has one of the largest school building programmes in London, the safest roads in London due to record investment in resurfacing, more Green Flag awards for its parks and open spaces than any other UK local authority for five consecutive years and has rebuilt or refurbished every one of its 17 libraries.”
South West Londoner will be providing live updates and all the latest news and reactions from all 11 counts across the area on May 3. Visit our website or Twitter for live coverage throughout the night.