This Thursday the voters of Surbiton Hill ward in Kingston Borough will vote to elect a new councillor. And it is shaping up to be an interesting contest.
It's probably the richest ward in Ed Davey's constituency and the Southborough area provides some of the moxt luxurious addresses in south west London. But it also contains a sizable chunk of a former Labour ward - Tolworth West - which was keenly fought between Lib Dems and Labour until it was abolished in 2002. The Tolworth roads are not poor - they contain solid Victorian and Edwardian villas and terraces like much of London and are populated by solid middle class intellegensia of mainly well heeled public sector professionals.
So in a way it's a microcosm of the challenges facing the Lib Dems at the moment. Can the party continue to appeal to an intelligent, urban, vaguely leftist, electorate who fear public sector cuts? Will the fact the party is in government with the Conservatives make it easier to attract vaguely rightist voters who have previously rejected the party because of its perceived (previous) closeness with Labour?
On the ground the Conservative campaign has been hampered by their candidate choice. The selection was basically between two former councillors - who lost out to the Lib Dems in 2010. This has allowed the Lib Dems to emphasise the good reasons for rejecting the Tories last year still apply, while causing the Conservatives to flip flop on the major issue of the campaign - the redevelopment of Surbiton Hospital.
Labour have run an agressive, but foolish campaign. They have tried to make it a binary choice between the 'coalition' and themselves - and are encouraging voters to send a message to the government about the 'cuts'. Their problem is that they are starting from 10%, so if enough voters switch to Labour to send the government a message it will mean that when David Cameron looks at the by-election results on Friday morning he'll see 'Conservative gain'. And I'm not sure that that's the message the Labour party wants to send.
The Lib Dems have picked an extraordinarily good candidate in John Ayles. He's the only party candidate who lives in the ward, he runs and education charity and his wife is the local GP. He is a pillar of the local community and has campaigned for more than 20 years on behalf of local people.
I don't want to predict the result, but given the outgoing Lib Dem councillor had a majority of just over 100, it will be close again. Labour ought to come third, but a very active and high profile campaign by the Christian Party in the Tolworth patch may mean they are under pressure for even that. My fear is that John Ayles will be let down by a lack of help from Lib Dem activists - particularly in the last few days. This is when close elections are won and lost and if every Lib Dem councillor and activist in South West London (and North Surrey) could commit to two evenings (or afternoons) in the next week I'd be much more confident of a Lib Dem win.