Sir Norman Fowler, the party chairman, said: 'For once, I am happy to agree with Labour. The decisive factor in this campaign should be which party will provide local services at the lowest cost to local people. We are delighted that our opponents wish to fight these elections on our chosen ground.'
He added: 'The decision voters make in the local elections will be for many people the biggest single purchasing decision they make this year.'
Jack Straw, Labour's environment spokesman, said on Tuesday that across the country, people in Labour-controlled councils would pay pounds 14 less than those in Conservative councils. Yesterday, Michael Howard, Secretary of State for the Environment, said that voting Labour would cost a taxpayer more than pounds 100. 'The average band C charge for the council tax for a Conservative council is pounds 456. The average band C charge for a Labour council is pounds 563, over pounds 100 more. The Liberal Democrats only control one county council, thank goodness. But their record in voting with Labour and helping Labour pass budgets is clear enough.'
Voters will elect 47 county councils in England and Wales on 6 May. In the last elections, in 1989, the Conservatives gained nearly 80 seats and overall control of Cambridgeshire, Devon, East Sussex, Essex, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Somerset and Warwickshire.
Sir Norman was asked if it was true that, whatever the party's claims about local councils, the Conservative government cost people more because of increases in National Insurance and heating bills. He said voters would obviously reach a judgement on national policies, but 'I believe that what the Chancellor set out in his Budget was exactly right'.