AS voters begin to file into polling booths for Durham County Council’s elections today Labour is widely expected to hold onto its historic grip on power.
When the Labour Party swept to power in 2013 it captured a total of 94 of 126 seats, increasing its majority from a slender nine seats to 62.
But with the party trailing in the national polls and having had a number of contentious local issues to deal with, such as the protracted teaching assistant dispute and closure of the Durham Light Infantry Museum, the overwhelming majority is likely to be reduced.
Several of the most senior Labour candidates are facing a tough fight to retain their seats.
It would be a monumental shock, though, if the party was to lose control of an authority they have held since 1919 - and since the creation of the unitary authority in 2008.
This year a total of 384 nominations have been submitted to contest 126 seats Labour has 126 candidates, while the Conservatives are putting up 76 and the Liberal Democrats, 49.
There are 38 individuals standing for office, along with 64 independent candidates. Fourteen are from the North East Party, who are contesting seats mainly in east Durham.
Ukip are fielding 14 candidates, focusing their efforts on wards such as Newton Aycliffe East, Craghead and Moorside, Evenwood, Blackhall, Pelton and Sacriston.
The Green Party is putting 17 people up for election.
The party’s lead candidate Jonathan Elmer and law student Sarah Thin are hoping to make a breakthrough in the Neville’s Cross ward, where longstanding Lib Dem councillors Grenville Holland and Nigel Martin have stood down. The cudgels will be taken up for the Lib Dems by Elizabeth Scott and Liz Brown, with the seat also targeted by Labour, the Tories and an Independent.
Among the notable absentees in this year’s elections will be the long-serving Coxhoe councillor Mac Williams, who did not intend to stand but resigned early over continuing local government cuts.
Jan Blakey, who served as Durham mayor in 2015/16 resigned from the Labour Party because she was not selected to stand for the party in Coxhoe. She will be standing, instead, as an Independent in the same ward.
Labour’s Thomas Nearney, who at the age of 19 became the youngest councillor in the authority’s history when he won a seat in Annfield Plain, will not be standing.
Neither will Labour party stalwarts Cllrs Patrick Conway and Bill Moir.
Among the new contenders is Kevin Early, former deputy leader of Derwentside District Council, who is standing in Consett North. In Spennymoor 14 candidates will fight for three seats and Tudhoe’s two sitting councillors Neil Foster and Barbara Graham (both Labour) face competition from four candidates. Spennymoor Independents People Before Politics have fielded candidates for all five seats in the Spennymoor and Tudhoe wards.
Labour’s Pauline Crathorne who represents Ferryhill is standing for Bishop Middleham and Cornforth, while Shildon Town Mayor Trish Pemberton, Labour member for the Shildon and Dene Valley is not standing for re-election.
People will be casting their votes in 444 polling stations. There are 386,681 registered electors with the percentage who have postal votes rounded up at 21 per cent.
Voting closes at 10pm tonight, followed by verification. Counting will begin at Spennymoor Leisure Centre at 11am on Friday. It is hoped the 280 people counting the votes will be able to deliver a final result by about 6pm.