A battle is on to dislodge the Tories from a prime broadcasting slot for the 2 May council elections in favour of the Liberal Democrats, who are second to Labour in local government.
Under current arrangements the Conservatives and Labour annually alternate the final and penultimate political broadcasts, which would give John Major the Tuesday 30 April slot on BBC1, BBC2 and ITV, two days before the contests.
But the Liberal Democrats are lobbying the BBC and the Independent Television Commission to drop the convention now that the Tories are trailing third in terms of council seats and councils controlled.
Such a switch would be a severe humiliation to the Tories, who face the potential loss of 700 more seats on top of the heavy losses inflicted last year. But a Liberal Democrat spokesman said: "We are second to Labour in numbers of councillors and we control four times as many councils as the Conservatives."
The Liberal Democrats will argue that when the order of broadcasts was raised by the Alliance in the Eighties, the broadcasting authorities insisted that they had to take account of the electoral strengths of parties.
The party will meanwhile launch a direct appeal to disillusioned "One Nation" Tories with a party political broadcast tonight urging that the defection of Emma Nicholson has shown them a non-socialist alternative.Reuse content