LABOUR will hope to retain three Commons seats in by-elections today, including one in the North-East, despite signs of a strong showing for smaller parties.

Voters go to the ballot boxes in Croydon North and Middlesbrough following the deaths of MPs Malcolm Wicks and Sir Stuart Bell.

And also up for grabs is Rotherham, the seat vacated by Denis MacShane when he resigned after being condemned for abusing parliamentary expenses.

Ed Miliband's Opposition are odds-on favourites with bookmakers to keep hold of all three - won with healthy majorities in 2010 - with Middlesbrough seen as a near-certainty.

But there will be close attention on whether Respect can pull off a repeat of George Galloway's shock April victory in Bradford West in either of the others.

Mr Galloway overturned a 5,000 Labour majority - smaller than any being defended by Labour today - to storm home with a 10,000-vote lead.

Another threat is posed by the UK Independence Party, which pushed the Liberal Democrats into third place in the Corby by-election a fortnight ago.

Its profile has been significantly boosted in Rotherham by the storm over the removal by the Labour-run council of foster children from a couple because of their Ukip membership.

The total number of votes, as well as who they are for, will also be of interest following this months woeful turnout at the first police commissioner elections in England and Wales.

The fact that only around one in seven made it to polling stations - which has sparked an Electoral Commission review - was blamed partly on the time of the year.

In the post-war period, the lowest Commons election turnout was 19.6 per cent when Hilary Benn won Leeds Central in a June 1999 by-election.

Despite the dark evenings and colder, wetter weather, turnout in Corby - on the same day as the commissioner elections - was around 45 per cent.