Rishi Sunak faces his first big electoral test as Prime Minister in just over a month’s time, when voters across much of England head to the polls to choose thousands of new councillors.
A total of 230 local authorities are holding contests on May 4, ranging from small rural councils to some of the largest towns and cities – though no elections are scheduled in London or Birmingham.
Polls are also taking place to choose mayors in Bedford, Leicester, Mansfield and Middlesbrough.
Local elections typically reflect voters’ attitudes about neighbourhood concerns, such as when bins are collected, the state of parks and pavements, or access to libraries and hospitals.
But they can also be a verdict on the main political parties and their handling of big issues – which in 2023 is likely to mean the cost of living, the NHS and public services.
Labour has been ahead in the national opinion polls for more than a year, while the Conservatives have made a net loss of 40 seats in council by-elections since the last set of local elections in May 2022.
Mr Sunak will be hoping to keep Tory losses in the May 2023 elections to a minimum, while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey will be judged on whether their parties are able to make gains at the expense of the Conservatives.
Across the country, smaller groups such as the Greens, residents’ associations and independents will hope to cause surprises and upsets.
For the first time in England, voters will need to show a form of photographic identification at their polling station in order to cast a ballot.
Not all types of photo ID will be accepted, which means some people may be unable to vote – though a passport, driving licence or blue badge are all valid.
Anyone without an accepted form of ID can apply for a special certificate from their council before the deadline of April 25.
Of the 230 local authorities holding elections on May 4, 152 are district councils, many of which are currently run by the Conservatives.
It is these councils that could see some of the most intriguing results, with the Tories facing challenges from all sides, particular from the Lib Dems across southern counties and areas just outside London.
By contrast, almost all of the 32 Metropolitan boroughs holding elections this year are already run by Labour, including huge authorities such as Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester, and these are unlikely to change hands – though the Tories are defending Dudley and Solihull, and Labour will hope to take back control of Bolton.
The remaining 46 councils holding elections on May 4 are unitary authorities and include many large towns and built-up areas across England, from Hartlepool and Redcar & Cleveland in the North East to Plymouth and Portsmouth on the south coast.
Many are currently run by coalitions of two or more parties, or by one party as a minority administration, though the Tories are defending places including Swindon and Medway, while Labour will want to keep the likes of Blackpool and Southampton.
The Lib Dems will aim to solidify their hold on Bath & North East Somerset and Hull, while the Greens are battling to keep minority control of Brighton & Hove.
Overall, more than 8,000 council seats will be up for grabs on May 4, with voters in most parts of England able to take part.
Elsewhere, Labour are defending two of the mayoral seats up for grabs – Leicester and Mansfield – while the Lib Dems are defending Bedford, and Middlesbrough is currently held by the independent Andy Preston.
As well as London and Birmingham, areas not holding elections include Cornwall, North Yorkshire and Cumbria.
No elections are taking place in Scotland and Wales this year.
Local elections in Northern Ireland have been put back two weeks to May 18, to avoid a clash with the King’s coronation on May 6.
Counting in Northern Ireland usually takes a couple of days to complete, due to the system of voting used for council elections, which sees voters rank candidates in order of preference.