THEY have been largely ignored in the battle for seats at Westminster.

But while a grassroots army of activists and councillors are out campaigning to save the skins of their MPs or propel their candidates to the Commons, many are facing election tussles of their own.

Local council elections are being held across Hampshire on the same day as the general election on May 6 and could make a real difference to the lives of residents.

One third of the seats on Eastleigh, Winchester and Southampton councils are up for grabs as well half of those on Fareham and Gosport councils.

In Winchester, the Conservatives led by councillor George Beckett aim to defend a wafer-thin majority of one. He faces possibly the greatest political battle of his career. The Lib Dems need to grab three seats from the Tories to be the largest party; take five and they will win back the overall control they lost in 2004.

The Conservatives are defending the seats they snatched in 2006 a few months after the Mark Oaten scandal.

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Cllr Beckett is hoping the public will recognise their record, pointing to below-inflation council tax rises as well as projects such as park-and-ride and the £2m repaving of the High Street. But Kelsie Learney, the Lib Dem leader, accuses them of running down reserves.

In Southampton the Conservatives with 26 councillors are likely to retain power on the 48-seat city council as they hold just four of the 16 seats up for election. But a Labour (14 seats) or Lib Dem (8 seats) surge could reduce them to the largest party with no overall majority.

Southampton councillor Steve Sollitt has already come under fire for standing for election as an Eastleigh councillor while also serving as a Lib Dem councillor for Portswood and the party’s finance spokesman.

Councillor Jill Baston is standing down as leader of the Lib Dem group and not seeking re-election, allowing former council leader Adrian Vinson a run at her seat.

She joins councillors David Beckett and the mayor councillor Liz Mizon in quitting the council.

In Eastleigh even a shock result would not see the ruling Lib Dems lose control of the 44-seat authority.

At worst they could be reduced from 37 to 26 councillors.

But council leader Keith House and partner Louise Bloom, his Cabinet member for the environment, are both fighting for re-election.

Lib Dem mayor Pam Holden- Brown is standing for re-election in Chandler’s Ford, while her husband Terry is hoping to become a councillor for the first time in Hiltingbury.

Half of the seats on Fareham Borough Council will also come up for election but the authority is likely to remain Tory controlled.

Twenty two of 31 councillors are Conservative and ten of their seats, including that of Sean Woodward in Sarisbury, are up for election.

The rest of the council is Lib Dem.

Controversially disgraced benefits cheat Hugh Pritchard is asking voters to give him a second chance – at the age of 74. He is standing for the Lib Dems after being expelled from the party eight years ago.

Meanwhile there is all to play for on the 34-seat Gosport Borough Council where the Tories currently run the show with a minority administration of 16 councillors.

Half of the council seats are up for election. The 12-strong Lib Dem group hopes to seize power.