Gordon Brown faces his first major electoral test as British prime minister today as voters go to the polls in the 2008 local elections.
Labour is braced for a backlash, amid anger at the abolition of the 10p tax rate and a poor run in the polls, which could cost them up to 200 council seats.
But a bigger blow would be the loss of the London mayoralty, should Ken Livingstone go down to his Tory rival Boris Johnson. The race for City Hall has so far been too close to call.
Voters in the capital will also get to have their say in London Assembly elections while 159 councils around the country have a total of 4,102 seats up for grabs.
Ministers have sought to quell anger over the 10p tax row this week by apologising for failing to realise millions of low earners would lose out.
Mr Brown acknowledged yesterday the British government got it wrong in his most contrite comments to date.
“I’ll be honest about it, we made two mistakes: we didn’t cover as well as we should have that group of low-paid workers and low-income people who don’t get the working tax credit; and we weren’t able to help the 60-64 year olds who don’t get pensioners’ tax allowance,” he said.
He insisted, however, that British Chancellor Alistair Darling was dealing with the issue and that poorer people would benefit over all from last month’s Budget.
Today’s results will be taken as the first verdict on Mr Brown’s premiership since he took over from Tony Blair, apart from by-elections held soon after the succession.
One recent poll showed Labour trailing the Tories by 18 percentage points, although others have been less damning.
Labour will take comfort from any signs that they have stemmed losses of such a scale.
Tory leader David Cameron will need to demonstrate that, while the British government is under pressure, he is making big enough strides to win an outright Commons majority the next general election.