Commons majority 'could be wiped out'. Lib Dems
change tactics to target Labour
By Andy McSmith, Political Editor
Tony Blair is heading towards an electoral catastrophe that could
wipe out his huge Commons majority because of disillusionment and
apathy among Labour supporters, according to warnings issued by senior
Labour MPs from around the country, including some who were
returned with large majorities in 2001, have privately warned that
they are now under pressure because their own voters are threatening
either to stay away on polling day or vote for fringe candidates.
The party chairman, Ian McCartney, issued a warning yesterday to
Labour supporters that there will be no "comfort zone" in next year's
general election. In an article for the magazine Parliamentary Monitor
he wrote: "Any sign of complacency in this campaign plays straight
into Tory hands."
The Independent on Sunday can also reveal that Charles Kennedy has
decided to "recalibrate" the Liberal Democrats' election strategy, to
take advantage of the erosion of Labour's support in big cities like
Liverpool and Newcastle upon Tyne.
The warnings will put immense pressure on Alan Milburn after his
controversial appointment last week, when he supplanted Gordon Brown
as Labour's chief election strategist. Alice Mahon, MP for Halifax,
said: "If we don't win a majority of more than 80 seats then Alan
Milburn will have failed. Gordon Brown delivered two magnificent
majorities of more than twice that size."
The IoS has also obtained a private email sent by Labour MP Nick
Palmer, who has bluntly admitted that he is likely to be kicked out by
the voters at the next election, and replaced by a Tory, although his
Broxtowe constituency, adjoining Nottingham, is 69th in the list of
Labour seats that the Tories have the best hope of capturing. If a
seat such as Broxtowe, which Dr Palmer held in 2001 with a 5,873
majority, were lost, Mr Blair's Commons majority would disappear
Dr Palmer's email, marked "private for members and friends",
warned: "The results [based on local canvas returns] do show a solid
and in some cases quite militant and aggressive Tory vote and a
hesitant former Labour vote."
Yesterday, Dr Palmer stood by his email, sent a week ago to his
closest supporters. "In our patch the Tories are barely visible, but
their voters turn out, while a lot of Labour voters are not sure that
they want to vote."
Mr Kennedy is hoping the Lib Dems will be the main repository of
Labour protest votes, because of their opposition to the Iraq war and
policies on pensions and public services calculated to appeal to
Labour voters. "The Tories are essentially dead in the water," Mr
Kennedy told the IoS yesterday. "We can encourage their supporters to
change their minds, but I think they're changing their minds for
"But there are a lot of Labour seats where we might not even be in
second place, but where former Labour voters are not going to vote
Labour again this time. They are not going to toy with Michael Howard
and the Tory party either, so we can leap over the Tories into first
Mr Kennedy forecast that Newcastle - where his party took control
of the local council last May - will elect its first Liberal Democrat
MP in living memory.
Last week's resignation by the Work and Pensions Secretary, Andrew
Smith, was partly driven by a fear that unless he devoted more time to
his Oxford East seat, which he held by a majority of 10,344 last time,
he could lose to the Liberal Democrats.
Labour was shaken last week when the London Borough of Tower
Hamlets elected its first Tory councillor since it was formed 40 years
ago, after a large part of the traditional Labour vote went to the
anti-war pressure group Respect.
Mr Milburn will try to calm the storm whipped by his new
appointment when he has a private meeting early this week with Gordon
Mr Brown is furious about the press briefings accompanying Mr
Milburn's appointment, which he sees as a deliberate attempt to
humiliate and provoke him.