28/04/2003

Local election campaigns get under way

With local government elections looming on Thursday, the battle to persuade voters to get into the polling stations is under way.

Today, the Conservative Party revealed that Ian Duncan Smith "has ripped the gloves off" ahead of this year's crucial vote, and Simply Red's Mick Hucknall has urged Labour voters to "Simply Vote".

Once again, the media predicts that voter apathy will be the ultimate victor this polling day, but the biggest national issue in years – the Iraq war – could yet persuade thousands to register their views when balloting begins.

And the Conservatives have called time on the "domestic political ceasefire enforced during the Iraq War", with Mr Duncan Smith telling party faithful in Guildford that Britain should reject Labour and Liberal Democrat councils that were "delivering poor services at a massive price".

"Your streets don't have to be dirty. Neighbourhoods don't have to be unsafe, unlit and un-policed. Your child's school can be much better. Thursday is your chance to send Labour and the Liberal Democrats packing," he said.

"All over Britain millions of parents and patients are living with the consequences of Labour's expensive failure to deliver the better public services they promised. My commitment to them - and to you here and now - is that the gloves are off, and come the next general election, Mr Blair and his government will be made to face up to those consequences too."

Elsewhere, at Labour Party headquarters today, Mick Hucknall explained that "voting is really important because it is the most important way we have got to have a say in how our country is run".

He added: "Don't believe all these pundits who try to dismiss elections as a boring waste of time. Instead, make your voice heard."

The Liberal Democrats launched their election manifesto last week, and billed the local elections as a "referendum on the future of the unfair council tax".

Edward Davey MP said: “Council tax is a grossly unfair tax. It hits pensioners and those on fixed incomes especially hard.

"A Liberal Democrat government would cut all council tax bills by £100, effectively cancelling out this year’s average council tax rises of £104. And we would ultimately replace council tax with a local tax related to ability to pay.”

Last time round, the Torys received a huge vote – albeit in the traditionally difficult mid-term elections for the governing party – gaining over 1,300 new councillors in England, Scotland and Wales.

This year, however, Mr Duncan Smith does not expect a similar showing – predicting only 30 to 50 gains – but he does not envisage an overall loss.

Labour's Leader of the House, John Reid, has said that the Torys must repeat 1999's success if it is not to lose out on a grand scale.

(GMcG)

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