Local elections: An overview

Polling station
People have been voting in the local elections Photo: ITV Meridian

Mid-term elections which will soon be forgotten? Or a pivotal moment which will help determine the fate of the political parties?

The Conservatives are massively dominant throughout our region. They control all the councils up for grabs. But they're bracing themselves for losses.

They haven't got a clue how many. Neither has anyone else. These are the most unpredictable local elections for years.

Traditionally, the Liberal Democrats, who are the main opposition to the Tories in most parts of the south, would expect to make the most of David Cameron's discomfort.

But now they're in Government, that would seem unlikely. They've plummetted in the polls, although they point out, with some justification, that in real elections they tend to out-perform their poll ratings.

Will Labour cash in? Ed Miliband wants Labour to be seen as the One Nation party - with nowhere off-limits.

Hence his symbolic campaigning trip to true-blue Witney, David Cameron's constituency. They will be looking to make progress in their traditionally strong areas - Crawley, Hastings, Gravesend for instance - but how much further will their appeal reach?

Don't read too much into a lack of major Labour progress: these elections - are mostly county council elections in the 'Tory shires'.

There are no elections this year in other Labour target areas, such as Southampton and Reading, where Labour did so well 12 months ago.

Many of the seats Labour will hope to win at the next general election have not gone to the polls at all today.

The Greens are hoping for some solid progress, especially in Oxfordshire, but their ability to scoop up the protest, anti-politics vote has been overshadowed by the party which has dominated coverage of these elections - UKIP.

UKIP's performance will be today's big story.

Ever since our region sent the first ever UKIP MEPs to the European Parliament in 1999, it's been UKIP's heartland. But impressive performances in European elections have never been matched in other elections. Until now, perhaps.

Last November they fought by-elections in Rotherham and Middlesbrough - and came second. . In February they almost won the Eastleigh by-election. These were stunning performances.

They're fielding far more candidates than ever before in today's local elections. The polls suggest they'll come third nationally - just behind Labour: but in the South, that will probably mean they come second.

That's in share of the vote. Because their support tends to be evenly spread across the region, it might not translate into a large number of council seats.

But a good performance by UKIP would continue to panic the other political parties. And not just the Conservatives. UKIP's appeal has always taken votes from the Lib Dems and Labour too: Ed Miliband will be especially rattled if UKIP do well in traditional Labour areas in the north, and they might well do so.

Nigel Farage's strategy is clear: use success in these elections as the springboard for a major assault on next May's European elections when their target is nothing short of overall victory. That would put our relationship with the EU, and the whole question of a referendum on our membership, centre stage in the 2015 general election.

Which is why today's elections do matter. Will the UKIP bandwagon falter? Or is their surge becoming unstoppable?