Image by Markhillary, via Flickr on a Creative Commons licence – http://www.flickr.com/photos/markhillary/4595215922/

VOTERS go to the polls today (Thursday May 3) as local council elections take place in Scotland and parts of England and Wales.

Last time around, in 2008, Labour suffered heavy losses and lost control of many authorities – including Outwrite’s home county of Flintshire.

At the time, many grassroots Labour activists up and down the country blamed the party’s disastrous performance at the polls on negative coverage in the national media.

The elections took place at the height of the 10p tax row, which damaged Gordon Brown’s administration and resulted in weeks of negative headlines for Labour.

Outgoing Labour councillors were quick to interpret their demise as a direct result of the electorate’s growing disaffection with Gordon Brown’s administration.

This time around, many political commentators are predicting a trouncing for the Tories after what David Cameron admits has been a “tough month” for the coalition.

From petrol panic to the controversy over George Osborne’s tax on grannies and pasties, and most recently calls for culture secretary Jeremy Hunt to resign, the knives have been out for the coalition online, in print and on air recently.

But will all this matter when voters come to cast their ballots today?

Experts are divided over the extent to which the national news agenda determines the results of local elections.

Do voters support a candidate because of his or her policies, strengths and personality? Or do most of us vote in order to ‘send a message’ to the government in Westminster, or out of a sense of party loyalty?

The truth is that no one can say for sure if local elections are decided by mundane (but important) local issues such as bin collections, roadworks, dog dirt and planning applications, or by the national media’s news agenda.

Many sitting Tory and Lib Dem councillors – like their Labour rivals four years ago – will have woken up this morning hoping their constituents don’t punish them for perceived failings at Westminster.

All councillors are at the mercy of a national news agenda beyond their control. It is only those candidates who have managed to build a strong relationship with their constituents – including through local media – who will enjoy a degree of immunity.