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Last Updated: Friday, 4 April, 2003, 12:54 GMT 13:54 UK
London: Local election preview
Westminster City Council
In the absence of elections in London, the Tories focus on Council elections beyond the M25 perimeter

With no local elections in the capital, the Politics Show London examines the major political party's prospects beyond the M25

If Iain Duncan Smith is looking for signs of a Conservative revival, he could do worse than peer over the hills of his Chingford constituency and look east to Essex.

With no local elections in the capital itself, the M25 perimeter councils look like a good test of his party's fortunes, especially against the Liberal Democrats.

Essex stalemate

Many of the county's authorities are now in 'No Overall Control'.

It would take a good showing from the Conservatives to build on a strong performance in 1999 that saw them make inroads into Liberal Democrat territory in Chelmsford, and pick up seats from Labour in Basildon and Braintree.

Chelmsford is likely to be the big Essex story on the night, with all the seats up for election, currently in 'No Overall Control', just a handful of seats separate the Tories and the Lib Dems, and power here would be seen as a good scalp for both parties.

Essex eyes will also be on Brentwood where the Lib Dems are defending a small majority, and across in Epping Forest where a couple of seats gained would see the Tories back in control.

Labour loyalists in the country will be looking to build on their position of strength in Braintree. They are currently the biggest party and need just a couple of seats for overall control.

With many of these seats, eyes will be turned on the performance of the Liberal Democrats, seeing if their more cautious approach to the war on Iraq will pay off at the ballot box.

Hertfordshire - the key?

Away from Essex, Hertfordshire could once again provide some key indicators of party fortunes.

Described as the 'cockpit' of the previous local government campaign in 1999, the county's home to some interesting battles.

None more so than in St Albans City, where a third of the seats are up for grabs. Currently in 'No Overall Control', the council is split roughly three ways with the Lib Dems and Tories needing to pick up eight seats apiece to take charge.

Labour will be looking to attack the Conservatives over in Welwyn Hatfield, a council won in the Tory revival four years ago.

It was a similar picture in Hertsmere, where the Tories should protect what is a fairly healthy majority on the formerly labour council.

Elsewhere in Hertfordshire, the Lib Dems will be looking to hold onto Three Rivers which they picked up last time round and to build on their position in Watford.

The city voted for a Lib Dem directly elected mayor last year and the party will be looking to attack labour hard its six seats that are up for grabs.

Royal Berkshire

Further round the M25 in Berkshire, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead should make an interesting battleground.

Under the watchful eye of Windsor Castle, or Legoland, if you prefer, voters will be turning out to elect the full council with new boundaries.

Currently at No Overall Control, but with the Tories the largest group, the Liberal Democrats will be launching a strong challenge here, they're just eight seats behind but will be hopeful of a prized scalp.

As indeed they will be in Guildford where local activists have been talking up their chances of capturing control of this commuter satellite town.

The party celebrated here in the 2001 general election, with previously unknown Sue Doughty winning the seat from the Tories, providing the Lib Dems with one of the best results of the night.

They're the single largest grouping on the council at the moment and with all the seats up for grabs will be looking to take outright control.

Surrey makes history

And a little bit of history's being made in Surrey at this May's polls.

The conservatives are putting up candidates in Epsom and Ewell for the first time in a decade.

Iain Duncan Smith, MP
The conservatives are putting up candidates in Epsom and Ewell
Despite returning Tory MPs to Westminster, local elections have been bereft of the blue rosette, due to the dominance of the resident's group that runs the council.

This time round though, they've decided it's time to get active, even if they're not expecting anything exceptional, as one party member put it,

'This could be the ultimate thankless task, but it's a start' - not a message their party leader will be wanting to pass on too widely!

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