Labour leader's union challenge

Leader of Southampton City Council Richard Williams Credit: Southampton City Council

After the celebrations, the reality.

Labour won control of the Southampton Council nearly two weeks ago, one of Labour's best wins of the night. Ed Miliband raced down to the south coast to congratulate them (and got an egg on his jacket for his pains).

Now comes the difficult bit. Coping with a deficit of nearly 50 million pounds. The previous Tory council embarked on a controversial policy of cuts including pay cuts for council workers, which led to protests, strikes, and streets piled high with uncollected rubbish.

The new administration will be holding talks with the unions, and say they hope to pursue a policy of growth to help mitigate the cuts. Easier said than done in the present climate.

There will have to be reductions in spending. Can the new council find cuts that don't cause too much pain?

This is a story that doesn't just affect Southampton. Mr Miliband made clear that Labour's win there provides a chance for the party to prove that it is capable of governing in the south of England, where Labour got such a kicking at the last general election.

If the new council's a success, that will give the party a massive boost in the run-up to the next election. But if it's seen to fail, that could halt a parliamentary comeback for Labour in our region.

Mr Miliband will be watching them from Westminster. And egging them on, you might say.