Super Thursday will test party leaders

EADT Political Editor Graham Dines previews this week's council and European elections.SUPER Thursday is almost here – when 6,071 councillors in England and Wales, the London Mayorality, 25 London assembly members and 78 Euro MPs across the UK will be up for election.

EADT Political Editor Graham Dines previews this week's council and European elections.

SUPER Thursday is almost here - when 6,071 councillors in England and Wales, the London Mayorality, 25 London assembly members and 78 Euro MPs across the UK will be up for election.

June 10 will be the biggest test of public opinion between the last and next general elections and Tony Blair is braced for an absolutely abysmal electoral performance.

Perhaps he won't worry too much - in the 1999 European elections, the Conservatives did spectacularly well on a low turnout, only to fall flat on their faces at the general election less than two years later.

This time, Michael Howard's Conservatives face a rough ride in the European elections from the avowedly anti-EU UK Independence Party. An opinion poll by Populus in The Times indicates that overall support for the Tories could fall from 36% in 1999 to about 24% this time round.

The Tories' woes would overshadow what also looks set to be a bad night for Labour. The poll indicated Labour support could slip from 28% to 25%.

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UKIP could see its support rise from 7% to about 13% - largely at the expense of the Tories.

Most regions of the UK lost an entitlement to a Euro MP because of the enlargement of the European Union and it will make the Tories' task even harder. In 1999 in the East of England - Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire - the Tories won four seats, Labour two, the Lib Dems one and the UK Independent Party one. This time, we're down to seven MEPs and anything could happen.

Nationally, there are total postal votes in four English regions - North West, North East, East Midlands and Yorkshire-Humberside. In Northern Ireland, the Rev Iain Paisley is not seeking re-election and there is a possibility that Sinn Fein will win the Ulster nationalist vote to get a voice in Europe.

In the East Midlands, UKIP's chances were given a major boost by the decision of former Labour MP and television talk show host Robert Kilroy-Silk to stand for the group whose main aim is to get Britain to pull out of the European Union.

Across Europe, 350,000,000 voters in 25 EU countries will be choosing 732 Euro MPs for a five year term of office. The Netherlands and the UK vote tomorrow, Ireland and the Czech Republic on Friday, Latvia and Malta on Saturday, while on Sunday it's the turn of Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

The results will be announced from 9pm onwards on Sunday.

WITH no shire, unitary or metropolitan districts voting next year, tomorrow's set of council elections are crucial - whichever party wins will keep control for two years.

New boundaries in many local authorities mean that all the seats are up for grabs make predicting the outcome difficult. But it seems Labour will be defending 2,737 seats, the Conservatives 1,426 and the Liberal Democrats 1,139.

As usual, the parties are playing down their expectations and will attempt to put the best gloss they can on the outcomes when the votes are counted - the night of June 10 or the afternoon of June 11.

In East Anglia, interest centres on Norwich, controlled by the Liberal Democrats and where all the seats are being contested because of new boundaries. Current composition of the city council is Lib Dems 30, Labour 14, Tories 1 and others 3.

Labour could lose overall control of Ipswich for the first time since 1979 but will remain the largest party. The Tories are expected to keep control of Waveney while the Lib Dems are battling to remain the largest party in Colchester which is expected to remain a hung authority.

Two by-elections are being held in Suffolk - Red Lodge in Forest Heath district and Haverhill East in St Edmundsbury borough. Main interest will focus on whether the Liberal Democrats can win back a seat in Forest Heath.

Key battles nationally will be Birmingham, Trafford, Kingston-on-Hull, and Cardiff and in all four every council seat will be a stake.

The Tories should win the two seats necessary for control in Trafford - the home of Manchester Utd, the Trafford Centre and the prosperous leafy suburbs of southern Manchester - while in Birmingham, the Tories have an outside chance of capturing the prize of Britain's second biggest city.

In London, Ken Livingstone is expected easily to retain the mayorality as Labour's candidate having been elected as an Independent. The main race is for second place between the Tories and Liberal Democrats. In the London assembly elections, the Conservatives will be hoping to consolidate some of the narrow wins of 2000.

Polling stations open at 7am and close at 10pm. Ipswich expects to have its council results soon after midnight and Waveney by 3am while Colchester begins counting on Friday afternoon.

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