Local elections 2019: Voters head to the polls as Tories brace for heavy losses
Voters are heading to the polls today as the parties do battle for thousands of council seats across England and Northern Ireland.
A total of 8,374 council seats are up for grabs across 248 English councils, with 460 seats across 11 local authority areas in Northern Ireland also in play.
Most of the seats being contested today have not been fought over since 2015, when the Conservatives romped home to a victory in the general election on the same day.
But the Tories could be in for a bruising night this time around, with the latest projection by Conservative peer Lord Hayward putting the party on course to lose more than 800 seats.
The peer predicted that the Liberal Democrats would be the main beneficiaries, picking up more than 500 wards, while Labour is expected to scoop up the rest.
The Conservatives gained 504 councillors in 2015, with Labour losing 238, the Lib Dems losing 425 and Ukip gaining 112.
The Sun reports that Conservative bosses remain hopeful that they can avoid a wipeout, with party insiders telling the paper they believe they can limit losses to "around 500 to 600 on a good night".
A Conservative figure told the paper: "The private estimate is our vote will be more resilient than is generally thought.
"Much of the voting is in rural areas, where Labour haven’t made many in-roads in the last few years."
Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn traded angry blows over the state of local government ahead of Thursday's vote.
Mr Corbyn said of the Tories: "They have cut council budgets by 50%. Poverty is up, waiting times are up, violent crime is up.
"All under a government that seems to care more about pushing its very damaging austerity agenda than tackling the burning social injustices."
But the Prime Minister shot back: "Conservative councils give better services. They recycle more.
"They fix more potholes and they charge lower taxes. A vote for Labour is a vote for mismanagement, worse services and higher taxes."
114 councils are due to start their counts when polls close at 10pm, with declarations expected from midnight onwards.
Remaining counts will start on Friday morning, with results declared throughout the day.