Lib Dems pose big threat to Labour

LABOUR tried to spin the disaster of last week's by-elections as an appalling blow for Michael Howard's Tories, who finished a poor third in the contests in Leicester South and Birmingham Hodge Hill.

LABOUR tried to spin the disaster of last week's by-elections as an appalling blow for Michael Howard's Tories, who finished a poor third in the contests in Leicester South and Birmingham Hodge Hill.

While the Conservatives were indeed humiliated and should be deeply worried at their failure to make any headway, Labour MPs have no cause to be gung-ho. The Lib Dems, having advanced in Tory rural and suburban areas at the last two general elections, now are making inroads into Labour's urban heartlands.

No Tory MP has obligingly died so far in this parliament to cause a by-election. But the Lib Dems have gained from Labour Brent East and Leicester South, and come within a few hundred votes to winning Hodge Hill.

Iraq has been the main reason for the Lib Dems' by-election spectaculars and Labour hasn't been helped by the feuding in its ranks and the media between the supporters of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.


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The underlying trend in politics is the lack of trust in the Prime Minister. But instead of turning to the Tories, those voters disenchanted with Labour seem set to either abstain or drift off to the Lib Dems. The result will be the return of a Labour government with a reduced majority.

If the Lib Dems make gains in the East of England, it will be at the expense of Labour. They are targeting Watford, St Albans, Cambridge and Norwich South - Watford and Cambridge look realistic bets for Charles Kennedy - while all Tory seats in the region should be defendable against any Lib Dem surge.

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Smug Labour MPs who think the Tories are incapable of mounting a major challenge next time may well be right - but to dismiss the Liberal Democrats could be a catastrophic error of judgement.

LUCY Jones, the daughter of Cheltenham's Lib Dem MP Nigel, has neatly rubbished the yearly Press release from Colchester's Bob Russell crowing at his voting record in Commons divisions. The 17 year-old Lucy, rounding on her father's critics of his junkets abroad, wrote to her local newspaper that "voting is a small, relatively unimportant part of an MP's duties."

Ouch, that's hit Mr Russell where it hurts. He's proud of his 90%-plus turn out in the lobbies for the past six years - and likes to castigate the region's Tories and Labour MPs for their failure to turn out and vote.

Perhaps the Liberal Democrats for Colchester and Cheltenham should get together and work out just what an MP's duties really are.

MICHAEL Howard's pronunciation of the word school - as sch-ooh-le- brings a typical puerile response from the booh-boys on the Labour backbenches during Prime Minister's Questions. Every time the Tory leader utters it, they set off on a round of loud "oohs."

No wonder outsiders shake their heads at such loutish behaviour - although I'm pleased to say that Ipswich's Labour MP Chris Mole finds it as tasteless and juvenile as I do.

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