Blair may go out to boos from the voters

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor May 3 has already been dubbed 'Super Duper Thursday'. But wherever that cliché has come from, it is certainly not 10 Downing Street or top circles of the Labour Party.

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor

May 3 has already been dubbed 'Super Duper Thursday'. But wherever that cliché has come from, it is certainly not 10 Downing Street or top circles of the Labour Party.

For the governing party, it could well turn out to be a decidedly black and horrible Thursday. Electoral support has been draining away. And though the biggest individual injury would lie in being reduced to second place in the Scottish Parliament, Labour is also threatened with hundreds of other blows and cuts in the elections to English councils.

In England there will be elections to over 300 councils. Close to 10,500 seats on these councils will be contested, and it is being predicted that Labour will suffer a net loss of up to 600 seats and that the Tories will make net gains of 600-700.

In normal circumstances such a hammering would generate substantial pressure on a party leader. He might even hear some calls to quit. But these are not normal times.

The announcement of the election results is expected to be quickly followed - within a week - by a statement from Tony Blair that he has resigned as Labour's leader. But the loss of council seats will have nothing to do with it. His statement would come anyway - even if Labour made sweeping gains in the elections. He promised last September that he would quit within a year, and his successor needs to be elected Labour leader and installed as prime minister before the Commons goes into its summer recess in July.

Most Read

It is not the impact of the election results on Mr Blair that will be important therefore, but the effect on his party and the man - most probably Gordon Brown - who replaces him.

Mr Brown would be personally affronted and troubled by Labour losses in the Holyrood parliament and on Scottish councils. But notwithstanding the expected SNP gains in his homeland, the key battleground in the next general election will be England.

Even when they are being held in a large swathe of the country, council elections always have to be treated with great care - not least because of the much lower turnout in them - as an indication of what will happen in the next Westminster election. But they cannot be dismissed as irrelevant or insignificant.

In recent years the Blairite tide has been heavily in retreat at the council level. Once again in the south of England a considerable number of councils have become no-go areas for Labour.

To what extent can David Cameron now capitalise on this?

Will the Liberal Democrats make strong gains, or will they be eclipsed by the Tories? To what extent will the BNP make further advances?

In the answers to these questions there will be good clues to the name and political colour of Britain's prime minister after the next general election.