Birmingham would have a new council leader next month if the Liberal Democrats overtake the Conservatives in the local elections, a high-profile MP has claimed.

Lib Dem party president Simon Hughes also said his party would expect at least equal city council cabinet posts as their coalition partners if they achieved parity at the local elections.

The Lib Dems have 32 seats in the council chamber, eight behind the Conservatives, who have seven of the ten cabinet seats. The council is currently led by the leader of the Conservative group, Mike Whitby (Harborne).

Mr Hughes was speaking yesterday as he visited Solihull, Birmingham and Shrewsbury - three of the party's target council seats.

Referring to the coalition make-up in Birmingham, he said: "Our expectation is that seats on the cabinet will be allocated to each other in terms of proportion of seats on the council.

"It will be great if we can overtake them. If both parties have even numbers in the council we would expect even numbers of cabinet seats. If we are bigger than them we will take the council leadership. The biggest party must lead.

"I am sure there will be some reorganisation after the election."

Mr Hughes said the party was also looking to challenge Conservative authority in Solihull, as the Lib Dems need to take only two seats of the Tories to force no overall control of the council.

The party president rejected suggestions that the Lib Dem's were a 'protest party' which would suffer at the polls as Iraq is less of an issue now than it was in previous years.

He said: "Britain is now a country with three-party politics where people vote for the Lib Dems for positive reasons.

"We regularly come second in local elections and I am sure we will in the elections in May.

"We are not a protest party. We get regular, reliable support, rather than protest votes."