A woman waits for clients in the Bois de Boulogne, in Paris. Photograph: Getty Images
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Should prostitution be legalised in France?

Back from Paris where she has been interviewing prostitutes, politicians, police, and feminists who argue both for and against legalising prostitution, Valeria Costa-Kostritsky asks whether this is the answer.

French Minister of Women's Rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, sees prostitution as an intrinsically violent act. “My objective, like that of the Socialist Party, is to see prostitution disappear,” she said in a June interview with French weekly Journal du Dimanche.

“Obviously, we don't want to make prostitution disappear in one day,” Maxime Ruszniewski-Bryner, press adviser to Vallaud-Belkacem, told me when I spoke to him by phone in December, “but to make it recede as much as possible and to help prostitutes who should be considered victims in the first place.”

Why victims? I ask. “For the minister,” says Ruszniewski, “prostitution is to be considered mainly as a violent act, and that matters more than the unconditional right to exercise this profession. More than 8 out of 10 women aren't practising this  profession freely. More than 8 out of 10 women are controlled by prostitution networks. They are, in their overwhelming majority, foreign, often undocumented, threatened by organised crime networks – which explains why, in the vast majority of cases, prostitution is a violent act against women.”

As for the “women who say they exercise this profession freely”, Ruszniewski adds, “there's a real question to be asked about what charging for a sex act means." On this subject, the position of the minister is clear: for her, allowing a sex act to take place for money increases inequality between men and women because the relationship is characterised by the domination of men over women.”

For the sceptical, Ruszniewski adds: “People often tell us that we are naive, that prostitution will never disappear, but in Sweden, where clients of prostitution have been criminalised since 1999, prostitution has decreased by half.”

Is there such a thing as independent prostitution?

Not really, according to police superintendent Jean-Philippe Lenormand, second-in-command of Brigade de Répression du Proxénétisme (the Parisian anti-procuring squad), based in Ile de la Cité. His squad covers street prostitution as well as the 'discreet prostitution' that takes place in apartments and hotels, via the Internet. His job is to build lengthy cases against pimps; the prostitutes themselves are considered victims. He tells me that most street prostitutes working in Paris are migrants from Africa (mainly Sub-Saharan countries), China, the Balkans and South America.

“There are very few independent prostitutes,” says Lenormand. For him there is a wide circle of responsibility around the 'victimisation' of prostitutes. “One shouldn't stick to the well-known cliché of the pimp, who controls a ring of prostitution through second fiddles,” he says. “ Anyone receiving rent from a prostitute while being aware of her activity can also be accused of pimping. The client who falls in love with a prostitute and drives her from her home to her place of work can be considered guilty of help and assistance given to a prostitute and he becomes a pimp too.”

This is how French law on pimping works. Here, even the child of a prostitute can be accused of pimping if prostitution funds his or her higher education. According to this very extensive definition, the only way of being a truly independent prostitute is to have no ties – be it with a landlord, friends, lovers, family.

When I meet France, an ex prostitute who created Les Amis du Bus des Femmes (Women's Friends Bus)  NGO in 1990 to fight the AIDS epidemic within the community of prostitutes, she describes prostitution in significantly different terms: “On one side, you have the traditionnelles ( old school prostitutes) who are disappearing, on the other, you have forced prostitution, which we strongly condemn and don't even consider to be prostitution. But in the middle, you have a vast grey zone with prostitution that is neither traditional nor forced – which encompasses occasional prostitution, student prostitution, prostitution by women who face extreme poverty and need to survive...”

Forced prostitution and migrants' prostitution – a confusion

In fact, the French Union of sex workers, the STRASS (created in 2009) claims that anti-prostitution campaigners deliberately cultivate confusion between prostitution by illegal migrants and forced prostitution. Superintendent Lenormand described extremely violent forms of trafficking – generally associated with gangs from the Balkans – where women are forced to work as prostitutes. But what about the Nigerian women he spoke about – the ones who migrate illegally to France and work as prostitutes to pay a smuggling debt? “Do they know that they will be working as prostitutes before coming to France?” I asked. “Yes, they generally do,” said Lenormand.

Naël Marandin, who volunteers for the Lotus Bus – an NGO providing assistance to Chinese prostitutes in Belleville – tells me that most Chinese women who work as prostitutes in this Parisian neighbourhood come from the North Chinese region of Dongbei and suffer discrimination from Chinese migrants who have been established in France for longer, who generally come from the Wenzhou region. Upon arrival, these women find out that, in the closed French labour market, most jobs available to them are live-in positions with families from Wenzhou where they are expected to work long and hard for very little money. Prostitution, despite its risks and the stigma that is attached to it, offers them a better income and greater independence. In fact, for many women migrants facing the closed French job market, prostitution is one of the few available options. Although it results from economic necessity, migrant prostitution does not necessarily equate with forced prostitution.

Prostitution as violence – meeting with a Catholic French anti-prostitution NGO

One of the leading voice speaking against prostitution in France emanates from Le Mouvement du Nid (The Nest Movement), an organisation created in the 1930s by a Catholic priest named André-Marie Talvas to help women leave prostitution. 28 year-old Anne-Cécile Mailfert leads its Parisian branch while also being on the board of Osez le Féminisme (“Dare Feminism”), a feminist organisation that has gone from strength to strength since its creation in 2009 and has close ties with the new Ministry of Women's Rights, with one of its founders, Caroline De Haas, working as an adviser to Najat Vallaud-Belkacem.

As part of her involvement in Le Nid, Mailfert visits locations where prostitutes work in Paris, but only on foot and empty-handed. “We are not there to give them cake, coffee or anything like that,” she says. (The Mouvement du Nid has always refused to distribute condoms, not wanting to seem to encourage prostitution.) “We are there to create a non-mercantile link, as humans, as citizens, to tell prostitutes that some people in France are not indifferent to what they are experiencing.” Women can also come to Le Nid's headquarters and receive help, if they announce their intention to stop working as prostitutes. On the Internet, one can find some edifying stories of redemption showing Le Nid's action, like this video named 'A flower in manure'.

“Prostitution,” says Mailfert, “is a sexual act desired only by one of the two partners involved. Being penetrated by a man in your mouth, in your anus or in your vagina when you don't desire him means not wanting his smell, his skin, his penis. It's very serious violence which has long-term traumatic consequences. For prostitutes, it implies a dissociation, a decorporalisation, that is to say an anaesthesia of the zones that are penetrated and also a psychological anaesthesia – so that they can stand what they are experiencing.” The term 'decorporalisation', Mailfert tells me, was coined by Dr. Judith Trinquart, in her PhD dissertation, entitled Decorporalisation in prostitutional practise. Trinquart, I later find out, now works as a forensic scientist.

Mylène and Sandra (nom de guerre), both in their late forties, work as prostitutes on rue Saint-Denis. This street, which used to be the most notorious street for prostitution in Paris, is dying slowly, as the police chase newcomers working there without owning a flat. Soon, the whole area will be gentrified. When I tell the two women about Trinquart's concept of decorporalisation, they're both greatly amused. “Look at me,” says Mylène, touching her arms, “I'm very much there. I can feel my body.” She's less amused by Le Nid's existence: “No, really, can somebody tell me what their legitimacy is? Why do they speak for us? I hate them, they're so insidious– they'll only help you if you say and do what they want.”

Protecting prostitutes against violence

While some French feminists are busy condemning prostitution as a violent act, they show less interest in fighting alongside prostitutes to defend them and improve their life. Yet, for historian Esther Benbassa, a senator and member of the EELV party (Europe Ecology – The Greens), supporting prostitutes is a matter of urgency. Benbassa has campaigned to abolish the law on 'passive soliciting', established in 2003 when Sarkozy was Interior Minister, which makes it illegal for prostitutes to solicit clients in the street, even 'passively' (that is to say, waiting to be approached). The law - which was part of an Interior Security Law, which, incidentally, also targeted travellers - contributed to clearing French town centres at night. Prostitutes, fearing arrest, moved further out, to more isolated locations, like woods, forests and roads. “The law has caused an increase in sexually transmitted diseases,” says Benbassa, “and made prostitutes suffer more violence and more precarity. It's also made it harder for NGOs to reach them. It really needs to go.”

During the presidential campaign, Hollande announced his intention of suppressing the law on passive soliciting, but when Benbassa tried to put a repeal on the Senate's agenda, she was required by the president's assistant and by Vallaud-Belkacem to withdraw it. I ask her why. “Don't be naïve,” she says. “They want to repeal the law on soliciting and pass the law criminalising clients at the same time, to make a good move and a hurtful one at once, as a way to sweeten the pill.” Benbassa is opposed to the law criminalising clients. “It won't work,” she says, before adding: “I went to Sweden with Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. There, we were given figures by officials showing that the measure works but these results are, in fact, extremely contested.” For Benbassa, “it is not the place of a Socialist government to moralise society. We know how hurtful dreams of a perfect society can be.”

Giving prostitutes legal status

25 year-old Morgane Merteuil is an escort and the first secretary of the STRASS, the French union of sex workers. (Unlike the British-based International Union of sex workers, which is part of the GMB, the STRASS hasn't been recognised by a bigger union.) Merteuil, whose nom de guerre recalls the name of a character in Choderlos de Laclos' Dangerous Liaisons, has quickly become one of the leading voices speaking for prostitutes in France. As such, her legitimacy is constantly called into question by anti-prostitution advocates – who regularly accuse her of not being representative of prostitutes (because she is young, University-educated, and doesn't work on the street) and of defending the interests of pimps, clients, and any men who exploit women through sex work.

“What do we want?” she asks, as I meet her in a café in Place de la Nation. “We call for a complete decriminalisation of sex work, because today, even though in theory, it's legal to work as a prostitute in France, there's a whole set of measures that prevent you from doing so. You can be a prostitute but you can't say so, otherwise it's soliciting. You can't be in contact with anyone because they could be accused of pimping. You can't work anywhere and you can't do anything with the money you earn.”

For Merteuil, prostitution needs to be viewed in a wider social and political context. “Why are there lots of migrant women who work as prostitutes?” she asks. “Because without residence and work permits, they are not allowed to work in France. Moaning about migrant women forced to work as prostitutes is of little use – we need to remember that the French state doesn't allow them to do anything. And why do so many transgender people work as prostitutes?” she asks. “Because it is extremely difficult to acquire a new birth certificate in France.” And indeed, having ID that doesn't match your new gender makes the job interview process very tough, and getting a job next to impossible.

“A discussion about violence at work could be interesting”, adds Merteuil, “if it wasn't exclusively about violence linked to prostitution, in order to legitimise banning it.” She believes that a law criminalising clients will only make prostitutes' lives worse, exposing them to more dangers, making it more difficult for them to negotiate with clients. “Do [anti-prostitution] feminists really believe that their proposals will be heard by this government – which is only socialist by name? Let's remember that we have Manuel Valls as an Interior Minister. The planned law on prostitution will only bring more repression, the social side to it will soon be forgotten, like it has been in the past. And I will never forgive anti-prostitution feminists for being complicit with that, just because they badly want a law criminalising clients of prostitution.”

Prostitutes, to be protected, need to be given legal status, argues Merteuil. Like Mylène and Sandra, she is not for the Dutch-style regulation that a small number of French right-wing politicians seem to favour (“The Dutch model, which allows brothels but bans any other kind of prostitution, just sounds like capitalistic exploitation to me,” she says). But she's interested by the Kiwi model: in New Zealand, prostitution is completely decriminalised and brothels are allowed, as well as small cooperatives of prostitutes who share a flat where they can receive clients. 

While researching for this piece, sipping tea with rue Saint-Denis traditionnelles, talking with members of various NGOs or hearing the great stories that cops tell when they speak off the record, I have learnt more about the wide range of difficulties faced by prostitutes working in France. Violence, arrest, deportation, police brutality, inadequate health care and overwhelming social stigma are all material conditions of this form of work. I have come to realise that giving prostitutes legal status seems to be the right thing to do if we really want to improve their life. Interestingly - and this should be noted by anti-prostitution feminists – legally recognising prostitutes is probably the best way to ensure that those who want to are able to leave prostitution. Legalisation would also bring benefits to those who currently have no other option but prostitution, allowing them perhaps to access training, apply for French nationality after years of working the Paris streets, or put their work experience on their CVs without shame or blame.

As for feminism, shouldn't it do more to include prostitutes in the discussion about prostitution? Some of them have important things to say, like Mylène, who tells me: “Mrs Vallaud-Belkacem doesn't realise that opposing women who want to earn a living being prostitutes goes against her fight for women's rights.” Could she be right?

Valeria Costa-Kostritsky is a French journalist based in London. This post first appeared on openDemocracy 50.50 here.

Valeria Costa-Kostritsky is a French freelance journalist. She reports on social issues and contributes to the LRB, the Guardian, Index on Censorship and French Slate, with a particular interest in France and Russia. She is on Twitter as @valeria_wants.

 

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What to look out for in the 2017 local elections on 4 May

Your guide to the important results, through the night and into Friday evening. 

Voters in England, Scotland and Wales will elect councillors and county councillors on 4 May, in the first major indicator of party strength since the referendum contest. The snap election on 8 June gives the contest an added edge. Here's what to look out for as the night unfolds. 

22:00:  Polls close, and the New Statesman liveblog opens. Parties will start their spin operations, which will give us an idea how well or badly they think they’ve done.

Remember the historic trajectory is for the opposition parties to do better at local elections than general elections, as voters use them to send a message to the boss. That even holds true for the elections in 1983 and 1987, which occurred in May before a June election, where the Conservatives made gains, unusually for a governing party when locals are not held on the same day as general election. So both the Liberal Democrats and Labour will want to post big results in anticipation of doing worse on 8 June than they will on 4 May.

We will also be electing the new combined authority mayors. These use the instant run-off system, which means that if no candidate gets more than 50 per cent of the vote in the first round, the top two go through to a run-off. This is one reason why the Conservatives will struggle to win any of these elections other than Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

There will, I imagine, be some on-the-whistle polls, though these should not be considered “exit polls” in the sense of the big one on general election nights.

Well, British exit polls aren’t measuring voting intention – they don’t give us much of a sense of what the percentage of the vote will be, for instance – but change. Although there are many more Labour voters in Hackney than there are in Harrogate, for instance, for the most part, if there is a five per cent increase in the Labour vote at the expense of the Conservatives in Hackney, there will be a five per cent increase in the Labour vote at the expense of the Conservatives in Harrogate – and, more importantly, in Harlow, a marginal seat.

This is very expensive however, so broadcasters will not be shelling out for an exit poll for the local elections. Instead, we’ll just get ordinary polls.

Hopefully they’ll be interesting, because we won’t have much to talk about until…

02:00: Results come in from the Isle of Wight, which, thanks to its large number of independents, won’t tell us all that much unless the Liberal Democrats are on course for a fantastic night. More interesting is Swansea, the first Welsh council due to declare.  Labour hold 49 of the seats here, but the Liberal Democrats went from 23 seats here to just 12 last time, so they will hope to make gains.

These results won’t disprove anything – Labour could hold on in Swansea and the Isle of Wight could continue to be a bit odd and the Liberal Democrat revival could be on, but it’s also possible that we will see that they are really starting to get back to their pre-coalition position.

Also keep a look out for how the Conservatives do in the wards that make up Gower, a Labour seat from 1906 until the 2015 election, where Byron Davies is defending a wafer-thin majority on 8 June.

02:30: Wrexham will declare. Wrexham has been in no overall control since ten Labour councillors, including the council leader, resigned the whip in protest at interference from regional officers. As a result, we won’t get as good an idea as we’d like what this result means for Ian Lucas’s chances of holding onto to Wrexham, which narrowly stayed Labour in 2015.

03:00:  It’s raining Welsh councils. Cardiff (Labour controlled, Liberal Democrats looking to recover lost ground in a council they ran until 2012) , Flintshire (Labour in coalition with independents facing Liberal Democrats), Merthyr Tydfil (Labour controlled having been run by a Liberal coalition with Indepedents from 2008 to 2012), and the improbably-named Neath Port Talbot  (Labour hegemony).

In terms of general election battles, look at how the Conservatives do in the wards making up Cardiff North, which they are defending, and Cardiffs West and South, which they hope to take. Look out for how the Labour-Liberal Democrat battle works out in Cardiff Central, too. In Flintshire, keep an eye out for the results in Delyn and Alyn and Deeside, where Labour’s Mark Tami and David Hanson face tough re-election bids against the Tories.

The great unknown is how well Ukip will do. Ukip have performed strongly in Wales but the last time these seats were up, in 2012, the party hadn’t enjoyed its 2013-4 surge and now it is in institutional crisis. They are standing fewer candidates though some former Kippers may do well as independents.

Then the English mainland finally gets on the act, as county councils in Dorset (narrow Conservative majority) , Essex, Gloucestershire (narrow Conservative majority) and Lincolnshire (Conservatives in coalition with Liberal Democrats and independents), Somerset (Conservative majority), Warwickshire (no overall control) declare.

In Dorset, watch out how the Liberal Democrats do, particularly in the wards of Mid Dorset and Poole,  which they held until 2015 and then lost on a massive swing. We’d expect a reversion to the mean for the Liberal Democrats on 8 June as they come off the back of their very bad losses in the 2015 general election. So look out for signs of that here. For Labour, their best hope comes within South Dorset, a seat they held until 2010, though unfavorable boundary changes since then make it a safe seat for Richard Drax.  

In Gloucestershire, the Liberal Democrats will be looking for a big performance in the wards of Cheltenham, another 2015 loss, while Labour will hope to build on their 2012 gains in the city of Gloucester itself. Seats in the Cotswolds constituency will give us a good clue as to whether or not the Liberal Democrats’ push into affluent Conservative areas that voted Remain is bearing fruit.

Meanwhile, Labour have two marginals to defend, while the Tories have three at a parliamentary level in Lincolnshire. The Tories will hope to defend LincolnBrigg and Goole and Cleethorpes in June, while Labour’s Melanie Onn and Nic Dakin are protecting narrow majorities in Great Grimsby and Scunthorpe respectively.

In Somerset, look out for the scale of the Liberal Democrat revival, particularly in Taunton Deane and Wells where Rebecca Pow and James Heappey are hoping to head off Liberal revivals. Remain-voting Bath in particular is worth keeping an eye on.

Warwickshire is all-blue at a Westminster level, though it contains the marginal seats of Nuneaton, North Warwickshire, and Rugby, which despite its 10,000 vote majority is the emblematic seat Labour would need to win to secure a parliamentary majority. As with all three of those seats, the council race should be a straightforward Tory-Labour battle.

04:00: Look for how Ukip or Ukippers-turned-independent can do in Blaenau Gwent, while the Conservatives hope to take Bridgend – held by Madeleine Moon at Westminster and crucially, Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones at the Assembly level – in June. A good Labour performance here would indicate that the Tories will face a harder time in Wales than the polls suggest.

In Newport, Labour regained their majority – lost in 2008 – in 2012, and the Liberal Democrats and Tories will both hope to eat into it. If the polls are to be believed, both Newport seats are at risk from the Conservatives, so look out for how they do here.

English county councils in Hampshire (Conservative) and Northumberland (no overall control) will declare. In Hampshire, the Liberal Democrats are looking for gains, particularly in Portsmouth South and Eastleigh, both lost in 2015.

04:30: Ceredigion, one of just eight Liberal Democrat defences, is up, but unfortunately, the local council is run by independents and Plaid Cymru so it's unlikely to tell us much unless the Welsh nationalists have an astonishingly good result, in which case, we won’t know much about what these means for Mark Williams’ re-election hopes.

05:00: CityMetric editor Jonn Elledge is scheduled to make his “O” face as the first ever combined authority mayoral result for the West of England comes in. (More accurately, it’s the Bristol-Bath-South Gloucestershire-and-North-East-Somerset mayoralty but that doesn’t roll off the tongue. Irritate a Bath resident and call it the “Greater Bristol” mayor. 

I am v. sceptical that this will come in at the advertised time as Bristol famously counts its results very, very slowly. But this is the only genuine three-way marginal of the mayoralties, though thanks to the form of run-off voting used, I expect there will be a lot of wasted transfers. (If you are a Green voter, it’s not at all clear whether you should put Labour or the Liberal Democrats as your second preference to stop the Tories, for instance.)  

That the Liberal Democrats are standing their still-popular former Bristol MP Stephen Williams as their candidate increases their chances here.

Monmouthshire (Conservative-Liberal coalition), will declare. Labour will hope to become the largest party and take control. Monmouth constituency has a formidable Tory majority of 10,000 despite being Labour until 2005, but is, again, in the ballpark of seats Labour must compete in if it wishes to govern alone. 

05:30: Doncaster mayoralty. Ukip used to talk a big game about taking this kind of thing. Not so much now.

07:00: Vale of Glamorgan will declare. Conservative at Westminster, but run by a minority Labour administration since 2012, Labour must take control and take control comfortably if they are to take the seat back on 8 June.

08:00:  Cumbria, where Labour runs a minority administration, to declare. Look out for how the party performs in the wards of Copeland and Barrow, both of which the party hopes to hold onto from 2015. The Welsh council of Torfaen, a Labour stronghold at both Westminster and local level, will also declare.

08:00-11:00: Sleep.

11:00: The first Scottish result comes in. Unfortunately, it’s from the Orkney Islands, where only independents stand at a local level, so we will learn….not a lot.

Scotlad elects councillors under the single transferable vote system so most of the councils are coalitions. In terms of stress-testing the polls, there are two things to look out for: the first is a general Conservative vote increase. The second is the emergence of what you might call the Unionist front: that is, people voting on constitutional lines across left-right lines. If that happens, the SNP may underperform their voteshare significantly as far as council seats go.

The nightmare for Labour: a massive increase in the Tory vote but no emergence of Unionist tactical voting. That would suggest that not only are the polls showing the Tories up to 30 per cent in Scotland are true, but that there is no electoral dividend for Labour there at all. (This would also be in contrast to the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections, where Labour lost votes but their vote became more effective thanks to tactical Unionist votes.)

The other thing to watch out for: if people, particularly Green-aligned voters, use these elections to punish the SNP government, which is sort of what we’d expect in regular times, or if they too vote tactically for pro-Yes candidates.

12:00: Stirling, the first Scottish local authority which may tell us anything at all about how the general election is going to play out, reports. The SNP are the largest party but they are in opposition, as a combined Labour-Conservative coalition run the show.

12:30: Clackmannanshire, currently run by the SNP but no overall control. Formerly held by Labour at Westminster and now represented by Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh. Meanwhile, in Wales, Denbighshire will declare. The polls suggest that Labour’s Susan Jones will be out of a job come 9 June. If Labour are going to hold the seat at the general, they will want to take control of the council in May. (It is presently a hung council with Labour the largest party.)

13:00: The Shetland Islands, which like Orkney elect independents, will declare. More interesting for the general will be Angus, where the SNP are the largest party by a distance. If the Tories are going to make gains of the kind forecast in the polls in Scotland, they need to at least be becoming the official opposition in places like Angus.

In England, Devon and Hertfordshire will declare. Devon is a straight Tory-Liberal battle. Hertfordshire is more complex. The Liberal Democrats will want a good result in the wards of Three Rivers while Watford is a three-way marginal. If Labour are to defy the polls and form a government, they should expect to gain seats in the wards making up Stevenage.

 14:00:  In England, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, East Sussex all declare. Cambridgeshire is the one to watch – if the #LibDemfightback is a thing, we’ll feel it there, in the wards of the city itself in particular.

In Wales, Caerphilly, Conwy, Gwynedd, and Pembrokeshire all declare. Gwynedd, Pembrokeshire and Conwy have large numbers of independents so may not tell us very much about how the general election will pan out.  Caerphily is a straight party battle: it’s a Labour vs Plaid Cymru but it won’t tell us much about how things will play out in the parliamentary seats, where Labour are miles ahead and their opponent is Ukip.

And in Scotland, Dumfries & Galloway, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Inverclyde, Moray, Midlothian, Scottish Borders and South Ayrshire all declare. The big one to watch is the Borders – the Conservatives are the largest party but are in opposition to an SNP-Liberal Democrat-Independent coalition. Getting good results in places like this will give us an idea how much the Conservative revival in Scotland will pay dividends in terms of gaining seats.

14:30: Aberdeenshire, East Lothian, and Renfrewshire all declare. Aberdeenshire is the fun one: the SNP are the largest party by a distance at the council and they of course hold the seats at Westminster. But it voted to stay in the United Kingdom by a heavy margin and the Scottish Conservatives won the Holyrood seat last year. If the Tories can become the largest party here, they are headed for a great result in Scotland in June.

15:00: Liverpool City Region will declare. Given my dubiousness about Bristol’s counting proccesses, I reckon Steve Rotheram is in with a chance of being the first person elected to these new combined authorities.

In England, Cornwall, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Surrey and West Sussex declare. Cornwall is run by a Liberal Democrat-Independent coalition, and if there is to be a Liberal revival in that part of the world, it will surely be felt in the council elections. 

In Scotland, Aberdeen, East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, North Ayrshire and West Lothian declare. East Dunbartonshire may give us a hint about Jo Swinson’s chances of taking back the parliamentary seat for the Liberal Democrats.

 16:00: A little bit of history will likely be made when Labour lose control of Glasgow Council.

The combined authority of Tees Valley should be a routine Labour win. Worry about June if it’s not. Norma Redfern is running for re-election as Labour’s mayor inn North Tyneside, which she ought to win easily.

In England, Labour should consolidate their position in Derbyshire, and win a majority in Lancashire, where they are currently no overall control. If they don’t – and if they slip back in both or either – that will be further evidence that Labour’s dire polling is correct.

17:00: In England, Labour will hope to make gains in Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire. Elsewhere, it’s a Conservative-Liberal fight.

It is very, very, very unlikely that anyone but the Tories will win the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough combined mayoralty. If the Liberal Democrats do it, expect a lot of Conservative MPs to start worrying.   

In Scotland, Edinburgh will declare. Who comes out on top there will be a fascinating pointer as to where Scottish politics is going: the city returned candidates from the SNP, Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats last year. At a council ward-level, it really is anyone’s game.

17:30: The Tories won seats at a clip in the Scottish Parliament last year, including Eastwood. See how they do in East Renfrewshire to see if they have a chance of doing the same to its Westminster equivalent.

18:00: Who will win the Greater Manchester mayoralty? Hint: rhymes with Andy Burnham.  More interesting is the West Midlands mayoralty, where Labour’s Sion Simon faces a strong challenge from the Conservatives’ Andy Street. 

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

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