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Last Updated: Friday, 4 June, 2004, 08:23 GMT 09:23 UK
South: Real opposition?
Peter Henley
Peter Henley
Political Editor, BBC South

Who are the real opposition to this Labour government? In the South of England Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are nearing the end of a bruising fight to settle that question.

Winchester Cathedral
Winchester targeted by major parties

Councils like Worthing and Winchester are on a knife edge.

On 10 June we will know whether Liberal Democrats opposition to the war is popular, or whether the Howard revival has tipped the balance toward the Tories.

Local issues are vital too. Visiting Winchester Charles Kennedy defended the Liberal Democrat time in control of the City council.

He said tough choices had to be made to provide affordable homes and clear congested roads, by allowing limited development.

But the Conservatives' Michael Ancram claim they are fast eroding Liberal Democrat support under their new leader, and will win the most seats next week.

Power sharing?

Ballot count
All will be revealed on Thursday, 10 June

In Worthing attempts at power sharing between the two opposition rivals have been tense and acrimonious.

The big debate has been about development, and over the future of a 30 year-old swimming pool, the Aquarina.

Liberal Democrats want to close it for extensive enlargement.

The Conservatives claim arguments have put regeneration plans for the town a year behind schedule.

These local issues will decide whether power changes hands, and lay the foundations for the campaign in the next general election.

Loyal Labour?

In the South's Labour heartlands the question is how far the loyalty of supporters has been eroded.

In Reading the Borough Council has been Labour controlled for twenty years.

But the Conservative claim an arrogance of power has crept in.

The de-selection of Reading East MP Jane Griffiths opened deep wounds.

In Crawley the project is under pressure - with opposition to war in Iraq.

In Oxford the Green Party are once again pressing Labour.

And then there is the UK Independence Party. Their main target is the European vote.

But in some councils they are enjoying unprecedented levels of support.

In Eastleigh three quarters of wards are being fought by a UK Independent candidate.

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