THE results of the forthcoming County Durham council elections are quite unpredictable with independent candidates likely to be the power brokers, according to an academic.

Professor Thom Brooks, the Dean of Durham University's Law School, said: "Certainly the Conservatives are keen to so-called park their tanks on the front lawns in the area and they certainly putting in a bigger effort.

"From what I've seen there is a particular spike in independent candidates. That as been particularly noticeable.

"I think we're in a position of less predictability with a greater challenge to the status quo.

"I think there seems to be probably some frustration with all the major parties for various reasons.

"So, for example, while nationally you have the Conservative party doing 11 points higher in the latest poll, at the same time more than 50 per cent of voters don't trust a word that comes out of the Prime Minister's mouth.

"So you have a lot of people at the moment who have a distrust."

Prof Brooks said the The Reform Party UK did have a very big impact in the last election, in areas such as in Hartlepool, where Richard Tice "probably got closer to winning a seat than Nigel Farage".

He added: "I'm surprised they haven't been able to capitalise more on that, given the number of candidates who did very well in the European elections.

"My general sense of the Conservatives is they certainly want to try. There's a big growth and they are certainly making a greater and more conscious effort.

"But I think that's going to be dwarfed by the independent candidates. I think this could be the election of independent candidates, who very well. There is a bit of fatigue with the normal two main parties that are at the heart of contesting most of the elections."

Prof Brooks said another factor that could influence the outcome in County Durham was the lack of exposure candidates of all parties, who had suffered because of the constraints resulting from the Covid pandemic.

He said: "People have not really been able to get out there. The incumbent parties in different regions and different countries are doing really well at the moment, because those who have different views aren't able to hold rallies or aren't able to meet many voters to win people on the doorstep, as you would normally see.

"This is going to heavily favour name recognition of people. If they don't know who you are it's going to be very difficult to get your message across.

"Also thrown into the mix are the police and crime commissioner elections. There have been quite poor turn out for some of those contests."

Prof Brooks said, in Hartlepool there is one poll that says Tories might be ahead, but with "lots of caveats to it".

"I think that a candidate there who is a GP, who has been an MP before and who is from an area that has traditionally voted Labour is going to help," he said.

When it comes to issues, Prof Brooks said having spoken to people of various party backgrounds, the only conversation in County Durham is about vaccines.

He said: "To be frank, people are a bit nervous about whether they're going to be in bed for a few days after the vaccine. People have been enthusiastic about it and getting back to normal.

"That is the only conversation. There is not that much talk about deaths or where the money is going. The real thing is the vaccines and people being happy that they can get it and happy to see their loved ones again.

"People aren't talking about Brexit, housing, immigration or trade deals with the United States. You're hearing the issues that tend to win people over.

"Vaccines seems to be it. It seems to be people are feeling more positive of it – probably grateful to a degree, to the Government for the vaccination programme."

The current make up of Durham County Council in terms of groupings are Labour 69 councillors, Liberal Democrat Group 15 councillors, Conservative 10 councillors and independents of various descriptions 32 councillors.

The Conservatives have fielded 111 candidates, Labour 124, the Liberal Democrats 57, the Green Party 18 Reform UK 1 and the independents 100.