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COUNCILS THE KEY TO TORY REVIVAL

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The prospects for the three main political parties in the forthcoming local government elections are analysed in Th...
The prospects for the three main political parties in the forthcoming local government elections are analysed in The Daily Telegraph (p14).

It is suggested that between now and the next general election, local elections will form the Tories main battleground against Labour.

The 7 May elections are a mixed blessing for the Conservatives as they provide an opportunity to reawaken what is left of the party's organisation and begin the reconstruction of its electoral machine against a backdrop of real comapaigning and voting.

On the other hand, they are unlikely to be much of a portent of recovery because so few councils can change hands. Thus, there are two benchmarks for measuring whether Tory fortunes are on the mend. First, will their share of the vote be greater than it was nationally last May, when it was 34.4%?

Second, have they done at least as well as the last time the same seats were contested in 1994, when they lost 440?

There is some hope for the party, which has made a net gain of 55 seat in council by-elections in the last 12 months, which seems to show a switch from Liberal Democrats in the South West.

Labour has held only five of the 17 seat it has defended in the same period, and has seen defeats in the traditional strongholds such as Birmingham, Nottingham and Scotland.

Toreis can take comfort from the fact that when the seats they are to fight next week were last contested they were more unpopular than now. Now, there main hopes for gains are in London, where, due to the referendum for a London mayor being held on the same day, a bigger voter turnout than normal is expected.

The prospects for the ruling Conservative group on Runnymede BC are in the balance. There is a possibility they could lose overall control for the first time in the council's history.

The Labour group leader Rodney Pate says that the Tories could lose control would hav e been unthinkable 10 years ago, but he now believes it is a distinct possibility.

'Our support runs right across the region,' he says. 'People are telling us what they like what the Labour government is doing and even some who voted Tory as recently as last May are switching over.'

However, Tory leader Chris Norman believes his party will do well. Runnymede has the lowest council tax in Surrey, which Mr Norman says is partly due to high land prices which allowed the council to profit from land sales.

But he adds: 'We do have a tight fiscal policy and I think our voters appreciate that'.

The situation in Doncaster MBC is said to epitomise the struggle in which Tony Blair's Labour is embroiled in trying to impose its will on traditional socialist members.

Labour's grip on power is unassailable, but what is on trial is whether those virtually opposition-free days, which allowed a culture of sleaze to develop, are over.

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