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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 May 2007, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Small parties in final local push
Ballot box
Voting in England will be held on 3 May
Smaller parties are predicting record gains in Thursday's local elections as voters look for alternatives to the big three parties.

The Green Party, which is fielding 1,400 candidates, says it is on target to gain 30 seats and 10% of the vote in areas where it is standing.

The BNP, with 750 candidates, says it is aiming to more than double the 46 seats it has on local councils.

About 10,500 council seating are being contested in 312 local authorities.

Sian Berry, Green Party principal speaker, said her party had benefited from Labour, the Conservatives and Lib Dems talking about green issues.

"There is so much scrutiny of our policies. People want to know 'what are the Greens really doing?'.

'Different league'

The party's best hopes are in areas where they already have councillors, who can show what they have achieved locally.

PARTIES DEFENDING SEATS IN ENGLISH LOCAL ELECTIONS
Conservative: 4404
Labour: 2379
Lib Dem: 2419
ALL OTHER: 1277 of which:
Green: 45
BNP: 9
UKIP: 6
IKHH: 3
Respect: 4
Mebyon Kernow: 6
Source: BBC Research

She said the party's aim was to break through 10% of the vote in areas where they were standing, which she said would show people a Green vote was not wasted.

"Next year the sky is the limit, once we have broken through that barrier - that puts us in a different league."

The Greens are bidding to become the second largest party in Norwich and Brighton and Hove. There are also several areas where they could end up holding the balance of power, including Kirklees, Colchester, Luton and St Albans.

They are aiming to increase their total number of councillors from 93 to about 120.

'Kick Labour'

The BNP is also aiming to break through the 100 councillor mark, although chairman Nick Griffin said that would include town councillors, which do not always show up on the figures reported by the media.

If we get people elected we have probably put in a lot more effort than the main parties
Steve Uncles, English Democrats

At the moment the party has 46 local councillors.

Mr Griffin, who is campaigning in Cardiff for a seat in the Welsh Assembly, said disaffection with government was helping the BNP on the doorstep.

"We are definitely benefiting from a 'kick Labour' effect," he told the BBC News website.

He said the party was also picking up votes from right wing Conservative supporters disaffected with David Cameron, particularly in middle class areas, which have not traditionally voted BNP.

"We are going to increase our strength where we already have elected representatives and there are number of wards where we may have all the seats," added Mr Griffin.

'First step'

He said the party expected to make the most gains in the West Midlands, in areas such as Sandwell. Gains are also expected in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, and Thurrock, in the South East of England, added Mr Griffin.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP) says it has not focused much effort in the past on local elections, but it wants to emulate the Lib Dems in starting off with a solid local base and building up its profile nationally.

"At the moment we've got about 18 councillors, if we could get 30 or 40 we would take that as the first step on the road," said a UKIP spokesman.

It has trebled the number of candidates it is fielding to "about 1,030" - excluding town and parish councillors.

"People don't think we are interested in getting rubbish shifted and improving local communities - but we are," said a UKIP spokesman.

It is eyeing council seats in the South West, South East and parts of the West Midlands. It is also aiming to get its first Welsh assembly member - where it is hoped that it will benefit from its proportional representation system.

'More effort'

The English Democrats, who campaign for a separate English Parliament, are putting up 102 candidates - 89 in English counties, and 13 in the Welsh border county of Monmouthshire.

"We think it should be an English county," said South East organiser Steven Uncles.

The party has Dartford Council in its sights - it already has two councillors and 20 candidates are standing.

If they were all elected, the party says it could take control of the 44-seat council, in coalition with a local residents' association.

The party itself is only a few years old and has 1,300 members.

"If we get people elected we have probably put in a lot more effort than the main parties," said Mr Uncles.

"We are confident we are going to take some seats off of Labour," he added.

'Difficult'

He also said it was important to try to show that an English nationalist party "can be a rational, multi-racial party, rather than just a bunch of right wing skinheads - it's quite a difficult thing to do... I think we are getting there," he said.

The Liberal Party is standing 78 candidates in England and Scotland - including 28 in Liverpool.

Party president Steve Radford is already a councillor for the city's Tuebrook and Stoneycroft ward - along with two other Liberal councillors - and has been busy with "good old fashioned door knocking", leafleting and some local meetings.

Mr Radford expected to see a "very strong Liberal vote" in Liverpool but would not give predictions for seats gained across England.

"Of course national parties get big swings in national perception, that is not true of smaller parties per se, it would be quite banal of me to try to make some prediction," he told the BBC News website.

In Liverpool the party has been campaigning on national issues - such as its opposition to ID cards - and local issues such as saving local parks and protecting terraced housing from the bulldozers.

In addition to the usual manpower problems faced by smaller parties at election time, they also have to persuade people they are not the Liberal Democrats - it split from the mainstream party after the merger of the Liberal and SDP parties in 1988.

The party says it forms "rainbow coalitions" with different parties and has councillors across England, in Peterborough, Gateshead, Liverpool, Wolverhampton, Slough and Exeter among others. They are also fielding several candidates in Edinburgh.

'Decent person'

The anti-war Respect party is fielding 50 candidates and is hoping to make gains in Birmingham, Preston and Luton.

The party's MP George Galloway has been campaigning around the country, on the issue of the Iraq.

There are about 100 smaller parties running candidates on Thursday, as well as independents.

At the last local election, smaller parties gained 13.1% of the vote in the Metropolitan boroughs; 9.2% of the unitary authority votes; 9.9% in London and 7.8% in the shires.



KEY STORIES

ANALYSIS
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With the results in, Nick Assinder assesses the election winners and losers


ENGLISH LOCAL ELECTIONS

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