29/04/2012 10:25 BST | Updated 29/06/2012 06:12 BST

Local Elections 2012: Tories And LibDems Braced For Heavy Losses, Say Polls

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are braced to lose hundreds of council seats when voters go to the polls this Thursday.

On what is expected to be a tough day for both of the Westminster coalition parties, about 5,000 seats are at stake on 181 councils across England, Scotland and Wales.

There are also mayoralty contests in London, Liverpool and Salford, and polls for the London Assembly.

The elections come after a string of difficulties for the Government, over tax rises, its handling of the fuel strike and the Tories' relations with Rupert Murdoch's media empire.

Both the Tories and Lib Dems are struggling in the polls. A YouGov survey this weekend suggested support for the Tories had fallen to 29%, 11 points behind Labour on 40%.

The Liberal Democrats were on 11%, only marginally ahead of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) on 10%.

Tory Communities Secretary Eric Pickles played down his party's prospects, saying Labour should be able to make 700 gains "just by turning up".

"Probably we're talking 400 or 450 coming from us," he told The Sunday Times.

He said the Tories were a "long way" from making any breakthrough in Labour strongholds like Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle.

A Downing Street source pointed out the Tories were fighting from a "high base" in this round of elections and that Labour would make "clear gains".

But the source stressed that the 29% figure - the Tories' lowest rating since 2004 - was higher than the party's mid-term nadirs before the 1983, 1987 and 1992 elections which it went on to win.

Lib Dem president Tim Farron said his party did not "expect people to be raving about us" but that things had improved slightly in the past year.

"In the last 12 months the Liberal Democrats' opinion poll rating has edged from pretty dreadful to only a bit depressing," he told Sky News.

"We know we are in a position we have never been in before, at least since the First World War - a Liberal Democrat government in mid-term - and of course we are having to take difficult decisions because of the state of the economy."

However, he said he had received a "fantastic response" on the doorsteps and that there was no prospect of the Lib Dems being overtaken by UKIP, as the polls threaten.

"I'm fairly confident that will not happen or even remotely but we as candidates put ourselves forward at election time and you have got to be big enough to take whatever the outcome is and accept the outcome," he said.

In London, sitting Tory Mayor Boris Johnson appears to be bucking his party's national trend with polls consistently putting him ahead of Labour rival Ken Livingstone.

However, he insisted today the contest was "going down to the wire".