By Daniel Hewitt, ITV Political Correspondent
It may not be a popular view, but spare a thought for your town councillors this Thursday. Most are hard-working local folk with good intentions, who give up a great deal of their time for a modest sum in the hope of making life better for the people they represent. Their work is largely undervalued and ignored, and when it comes to elections, their careers live and die not on personal record, but on the mood of the nation at a moment in time.
Westminster casts a long shadow, and local elections are rarely about the local. Councillors are at the mercy of prevailing political winds - those of governing parties can be swept away to be replaced by candidates who so happen to be standing for the party of Her Majesty’s official opposition during a mid-term contest. Who’d be a local politician, ey?
And this Thursday, the best place to gauge the direction of that prevailing wind is Trafford. The last bastion of Tory blue in the red sea that is Greater Manchester, tomorrow’s election is a litmus test for both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.
Both have visited Trafford during the campaign - the Prime Minister began the final week of campaigning here on Monday, while the Labour leader chose to launch his party’s national campaign here in March.
Of Greater Manchester’s ten local authorities, this is the only one the Conservative Party still controls. Just.
If they lose 2 of their 33 seats, the council will fall into no overall control. Labour, who currently hold 26 seats, have ambitions to go one further and send shockwaves that reach all the way to the door of Number 10.
For Jeremy Corbyn, Trafford will test his reach with middle England, his ability to win over those people who have previously voted Tory - in places like Davyhulme and Flixton, where Conservative Councillors currently defend slim majorities. Labour can only take control of Trafford by taking those wards, and Jeremy Corbyn can only become Prime Minister by convincing the kind of people that live in them.
He has the full weight of Momentum behind him. The Corbyn-supporting group has been holding “unseat Trafford Council” events in the area, backed by the party’s growing youth membership and vocal supporters like Owen Jones, who campaigned here in April. Unlike Labour’s failed attempt to win here in 2016, this time the party looks organised and prepared, more members (not all) are singing from the same hymn sheet and confidence is high.
Theresa May needs Trafford to lend her the same loyalty they extended to David Cameron. All but guaranteed the support of Trafford’s wealthy wards in Altrincham, Hale and Bowden - the latter of which boasts some of the richest residents in the country - the Prime Minister needs to appeal to the people she herself once described as the “Just About Managing” - voters who can’t remember the last pay rise they had and who may this time be tempted to give the other lot a go. Amid a backdrop of cuts to Greater Manchester police numbers, falling council budgets and a slowing economy - holding on to Trafford will be no mean feat.
But both party leaders head into this round of local elections marred by scandal.
Jeremy Corbyn has failed to tackle of the anti-semitism crisis that has taken hold in his party. Theresa May’s handling of the Windrush scandal has seen her lose her Home Secretary and brought calls from Labour for her to resign, with MPs in her own party once again privately questioning how long she can stay in Number 10.
Both are unsavoury episodes in their own ways and will remain major problems for Mrs May and Mr Corbyn irrespective of this Thursday’s results.
That said, both leaders are in need of some good news and nothing boosts moral like a win at the polls, and no victory will be sweeter than the prize on offer in Trafford.
For Jeremy Corbyn, turning it red will be heralded across the country as a sign of things to come. For Theresa May, victory in her first electoral test since last June’s disastrous General Election performance offers redemption and reprieve, for now,
Defeat however will be another nail in the coffin of a Prime Minister whose enemies are already circling. In Trafford, it really is Mrs May who has the most to lose.