East Anglia at the heart of the fray

EAST Anglia became the centre of frantic last minute electioneering yesterday as the political parties launched a desperate appeal to supporters to get out and vote.

EAST Anglia became the centre of frantic last minute electioneering yesterday as the political parties launched a desperate appeal to supporters to get out and vote.

Chancellor Gordon Brown visited a Sure Star scheme in Harwich, where Labour is defending a 2,596 majority, before heading for Great Yarmouth, which has a Labour majority of 4,564. Conservative leader Michael Howard headed to Norwich North - Labour majority 5,863.

Mr Howard was also due in Great Yarmouth, but fog caused his helicopter to be diverted to Norwich.

The marginal seats have become the focus of campaigning as all the opinion polls suggest it's a close run thing between the two main parties in around 100 seats throughout the UK.

Liberal Democrat voters are the target of the Labour machine, urging them to back Tony Blair in order not to let the Conservatives into Downing Street "through the back door".

In addition to Harwich and Great Yarmouth, Labour seats in the region being ruthlessly targeted by the Tories are Braintree, Peterborough, Welwyn-Hatfield, and Hemel Hempstead. The Liberal Democrats have Watford and Cambridge in their sights, while St Albans has become a three-way marginal.

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The Chancellor received a boisterous reception at Harwich Community Primary School as UK Independence Party and Respect supporters drowned out Labour backers at the school gates.

After meeting parents and teachers, he braved the jeering of his opponents as he walked a few hundred yards to the Harwich Peninsula Sure Start unit at The Ark Neighbourhood Nursery.

"We're fighting hard to keep all our marginal seats," said Mr Brown, who had earlier shared a platform with Tony Blair at Labour's last campaign press conference in London.

"As I've toured the country, I've seen all the changes brought about by Labour's investment in public services. But there is still much more to do which is why we're fighting hard for every vote."

The point was emphasised by Mr Blair, who in a television interview said: "The point about a General Election is it's fought constituency by constituency. Whatever the opinion polls say, in the key seats a few hundred votes or a few thousand votes can determine it either way."

Mr Blair's itinerary took him to Lancashire, Scotland and Yorkshire, before heading last night to his Sedgefield, Co Durham, constituency, where he will vote this morning.

For Michael Howard, the day included stops in Surrey, North Yorkshire, and Great Yarmouth before turning to his Folkestone and Hythe constituency in Kent.

He repeated his campaign message that "the British people can vote for things to stay as they are or they can vote for positive change. If they vote for positive change tomorrow, the country will wake up on Friday to a brighter, better Britain.

"We will have a Government that will take action, action that really matters to the country, action that really matters to the people of our country."

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy paid a symbolic visit to Brent East - where at the September 2003 by-election his party overturned a huge Labour majority to take the seat for the Liberal Democrats with a 29% swing -- before heading north to Leeds and Edinburgh.

He will vote today in his Scottish Highlands constituency of Ross, Syke and Inverness West

Mr Kennedy said: "We have stayed on the positive, we have put forward our case and I think we have really got through to people.

"I think what we are seeing is support for the Conservatives disappearing like snow off a dyke, support for us coming up, and Labour very badly rattled by the Lib Dem challenge in the closing stages. It is a great optimistic feeling."

Polling stations are open between 7am and 10pm and voters will also be able to select their Suffolk and Essex county councillors for the next four years. District council by-elections are also being held in Waveney and Chelmsford.

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