Election '97: Welsh constituency does it in threes

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The Independent Online
Labour and the Liberal Democrats are slugging it out toe-to-toe in Brecon and Radnorshire, a curate's egg of a constituency boasting a history of tight three-way battles.

The major parties have all held sway there in the past 25 years. The Tory Jonathan Evans scraped in by 130 votes over the Liberal Democrat Richard Livsey in 1992 but as polling day looms a change looks highly likely.

A swing of 0.1 per cent would see Paddy Ashdown's man home. Labour needs a 4.9 per cent swing to triumph and the party's candidate, Chris Mann, points to an NOP poll for the television company HTV which puts Labour in Wales on 60 per cent, with the Tories trailing at 19 per cent, the Liberal Democrats on 9 per cent and Plaid Cymru on 12 per cent.

The pace quickened yesterday, when a dozen Welsh Labour candidates - all defending majorities ranging from 5,000 to more than 20,000 - were drafted in to the Mid-Wales constituency.

They were joined by Chris Smith, the shadow health secretary, and teams were out in the three main towns of a sprawling constituency so diverse that in the south the coal mining industry is still remembered while in the north the railway station at Nighton is actually in Shropshire.

Peter Hain sits on a 23,975 majority in neighbouring Neath, which is twinned with Brecon and Radnorshire. He told shoppers in Brecon: "People who voted Liberal in 1992 ended up with a Tory MP and a Tory government. When there was a Liberal MP in the 1987 parliament he was simply ignored by the Tory government. A Labour MP backing a Labour government is the best outcome." Privately, all three parties believe they can win, but bets are being hedged. James Gibson-Watt, the Liberal Democrat agent, says cautiously: "It looks favourable, but with three days to go funny things can happen."

Mr Evans campaigns on his record. He claims that in five years as an MP he has written to over 80,000 people - and average of 43 letters a day. "I have worked to ensure that local needs are understood by the decision makers," he says.

Labour is marginally more forthcoming. Mr Mann says that 25,000 electors have been contacted. "We are on 37 per cent, with the Liberal Democrats on 32 per cent and the Tories fading at 29 per cent."

In such a close contest the votes of Plaid Cymru's Steven Cornelius and the Referendum Party's Liz Phillips could hold the key. Ms Phillips was heartened yesterday when reports trickled through of Tory posters being replaced by hers.

Labour claims to have identified 17,000 supporters - enough to snatch the victory yesterday's high-profile "blitz" by candidates like Ron Davies, the shadow Welsh secretary, Ann Clwyd and Rhodri Morgan was designed to make real.