How will the parties fare tonight?

Labour is set to gain 700-800 seats, with the Tories losing 500-600.

With a few hours to go until the polls close, how are the three main parties likely to fare tonight?

As I noted last month, it's likely to be a good night for Labour, even if Boris is re-elected to City Hall. The annual pre-election forecast from Plymouth psephologists Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, based on local by-election results, suggested that the party could gain as many as 700 seats. Since then, LSE elections expert Tony Travers has predicted (£) that Labour's total gains are likelier to be closer to 800 seats, with 900 required "for a good night". The Conservatives' woes, he suggested, would limit Lib Dem losses to 100-200 seats, with the Tories losing 500-600 (see graph).

Unlike last year, Labour is also expected to win a higher national equivalent share of the vote than the Tories. When the seats falling vacant were last contested in 2008, the party, then led by Gordon Brown, won just 24 per cent of the vote. But this year, Labour is expected to win 37 per cent, with the Tories down nine to 34 per cent and the Lib Dems down five to 18 per cent.

The one event (aside from the London mayoral election) that could spoil Miliband's evening is a Scottish National Party victory in Glasgow. Labour has already lost overall control of the council for the first time in 35 years after a series of resignations and defections, and the SNP, which won five of the city's nine constituencies in last year's Scottish Parliament elections, is hoping to win a majority. Should Alex Salmond's party also gain North Lanarkshire, Labour could be left without overall control of a single Scottish council. Such an outcome would confirm the SNP's hegemonic status in Scottish politics and provide it with another platform to make the case for independence.

Miliband will rightly attribute the (likely) defeats in London and Scotland to local factors but that won't stop the press asking, "if Labour can't win in London and Scotland, where can it win?" Miliband's hope is that the party's gains elsewhere will answer that question. Labour expects to win more than a dozen councils, including Birmingham, Cardiff, Plymouth and Carlisle.

Leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband and his wife Justine leave their local polling station after casting their vote. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.