Councils: 'Clegg effect' could help Lib Dems win up to 100 local seats

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Indy Politics

They are the elections that Britain forgot. A total of 15,785 candidates are fighting for 4,222 local council seats, many in town halls where power has been shared in Lib-Lab or Lib-Con coalitions long before the possibility of a hung Parliament at Westminster was in prospect. The Liberal Democrats hope to win up to 100 seats across the country.

The “Clegg effect” could help them gain four seats to take control in Camden, a London borough where they are in coalition with the Tories. They are also targeting the Labour-controlled London borough of Haringey, and hung councils in Islington, Southwark and Brent.

The surge in support may enable the Liberal Democrats to fight off a concerted Tory challenge for its seats on councils in leafy Sutton, Richmond, and Kingston-upon-Thames, which has been criticised by the Tories for the highest council tax levy in London at £1,663 for Band D.

In the Midlands and north of England, the Lib Dems hope to gain in cities with hung councils such as Birmingham and Leeds, and to consolidate their slim majorities in Sheffield, Liverpool and Rochdale – scene of Gordon Brown’s “bigot” gaffe.

In total, the Lib Dems field 3,525 candidates and defend 879 seats. Labour field about 4,000 candidates and defend 1,400 seats. The Tories field 4,207 candidates and defend 1,730 seats.

Turnout is expected to be higher than usual for local elections, with 20 million voters likely to take part in the general election and local polls.

The BNP could raise their tally of council seats, having exploited voter disillusionment with the main parties on immigration and the allocation of social housing. The BNP hold 33 seats and are putting up a total of 727 candidates.

In London, all 32 of the boroughs in the capital are up for election today alongside general election candidates for the first time. There are also elections for four directly-elected mayors. Three are Labour-held in Lewisham, South East London, Hackney, Newham but in Watford, the Liberal Democrat mayor, Dorothy Thornhill is seeking re-election.

In addition, there are elections in 36 metropolitan and 20 unitary authorities. When these seats were last fought four years ago, the Tories trounced Labour, with a lead of 14 per cent over their rivals. Labour’s share of the vote sank to 25 per cent.

With an unpopular Labour Prime Minister also on trial in today’s polls, Tory leader David Cameron could have expected to roll over Labour and the Liberal Democrats in town halls across England. But aides to Mr Cameron are privately playing down prospects of large Tory gains. Some estimates suggest they could lose up to 150 seats.

A Tory source said: “We hope to retain as position as the largest party with more councillors than Labour and the Lib Dems combined, but we are starting from a high base following the disastrous Labour performance of 2006 and people may vote on a split ticket, voting one way in the General Election and another in the local elections.”

Eric Pickles, the Tory Party chairman, has been campaigning hard on local issues, including alleged plans to levy a tax on bins. Shadow Environment spokesman, Caroline Spelman has issued dire warnings of soaring council tax bills to follow a revaluation of homes, which she claims could penalise the middle classes and homes with a view. The Tories are pledged to oppose revaluation.

Labour could lose 50 seats overall, but they are fighting to take Enfield and Ealing London borough councils from the Tories. The Conservatives could also lose control of Barnet and Harrow but the Tories have hopes of taking Merton, currently under no overall control.