Britain votes on Thursday in European elections set to deliver a bloody nose to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is struggling to assert his authority amid resignations and an alleged plot to oust him.
Opinion polls suggest Brown’s Labour party will be place third in the vote for Britain’s 72 members of the European Parliament, as an already unpopular government faces a backlash over a scandal over lawmakers’ parliament expenses.
Brown’s premiership is also under threat after four government ministers, including two members of his cabinet, quit in the past two days, and reports suggesting backbench Labour MPs are trying to unseat him.
Voters will also elect 2,318 councillors in 35 local authorities across England on Thursday, where Labour is again expected to do badly. Polls open at 7:00 am (0600 GMT) and close at 10:00 pm.
The ruling party is expected to bear the brunt of public outrage over the expenses row, which has shown MPs have claimed public money for everything from toilet seats to moat cleaning.
The situation has not been helped by turmoil at the top.
Communities Secretary Hazel Blears, who faced criticism over her expenses, resigned on Wednesday, and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she would step down at the next cabinet reshuffle, expected within days.
After two other junior ministers quit on Tuesday, opposition Conservative leader David Cameron declared, “The government is collapsing before our eyes.”
Meanwhile, newspapers on Thursday reported that an email was being circulated to Labour MPs to sign, calling for Brown to step aside so that a new leader can fight the next general election, due within a year.
Addressed to the premier, the email highlights his “enormous contribution to this country and to the Labour party, and this is very widely acknowledged”.
“However... in the current political situation, you can best serve the Labour Party and the country by stepping down as party leader and prime minister, and so allowing the party to choose a new leader to take us into the next general election.”
Cameron’s Conservative party has been leading Labour in opinion polls for months, and although it has also been damaged by the expenses scandal, it is expected to emerge from the European polls with the largest share of the vote.
Analysts are also predicting an increase in support for the smaller parties such as the anti-European UK Independence Party (Ukip) and the far-right British National Party (BNP).
A new YouGov poll for the Daily Telegraph published late Wednesday suggests that among people certain to vote, just 16 percent will back Labour, behind the Conservatives’ 26 percent and UKip’s 18 percent.
The Liberal Democrats, the third largest party in parliament, are only slightly behind Labour on 15 percent of the vote, according to the poll of 4,014 people carried out on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.
The survey also found the Green party commanded 10 percent support and the BNP five percent -- which could be enough to hand them their first MEP.
Local election results are due on Friday, but the European votes will not be counted until Sunday, by when all 27 EU member states will have voted.