Election move by Labour will aid Lib Dems: Withdrawal of two candidates could block Tories in council vote

THE LABOUR Party in Berkshire has shunned the views of its national and regional advisers by withdrawing two candidates in a move which will favour the Liberal Democrats and could stop the Tories taking control of the county council.

Labour insists it is not entering into an electoral pact with the Liberal Democrats. But Labour candidates Peter Kayes, and Robert Fowler, in Kentwood and Tilehurst West wards, have withdrawn their names.

The county council is now led by Labour, in a coalition that includes Liberal Democrats and Independents. They have a 39-37 majority over the Conservatives. One net gain for the Tories would mean they take control.

Labour has said - nationally and regionally - that it will fight all seats and will not countenance local deals to secure power. But the Berkshire decision flies in the face of that.

Dr Lawrence Silverman, the Labour leader of the county council, said yesterday: 'Our candidates have withdrawn with the object of maximising non support of the Conservatives in the county council elections.

'We did not discuss this with the Liberal Democrats. Each party must make its own decision as to whether to run a candidate or not.

'We took a decision that it was in the best interests of Labour people not to have Tory control. It was a unilateral decision.'

He said that he had received no advice from the Labour Party nationally as to how it should approach the election.

Dr Linda Murray, the leader of the Liberal Democrats and the deputy leader of the council, also says there were no deals.

She says the figures at the last elections convinced her they had to make gains when they had been the major challengers, 'where the gap was closest'.

In 1989, at the time of the last county council elections, the Tories gained Tilehurst West with a majority of 65. The share of the vote then was: 41.8 per cent SLD; 44.9 per cent Conservatives; and 13.2 per cent Labour. In 1985 the Liberals had won the seat by a majority of 155 votes.

In the electoral ward of Kentwood, in 1989 the result was a Conservative gain. The share of the votes was: 36.3 per cent SLD; 43.4 per cent Conservative; and 18.2 per cent Labour. Again, in 1985, it had been a Liberal win. Clearly, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats seek advantage in not splitting the anti-Tory vote.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, are hoping to persuade the voters that there is no difference between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Gareth Gimblett, the leader of the Conservatives, said: 'The Liberal Democrats are very much in the pocket of the Labour Party. The Labour Party decision to withdraw candidates means that in our view they are denying the electorate the chance to make choices about people. It is very misleading.'

A 6 May date for the Newbury by-election, caused by the death of the Tory MP Judith Chaplin, is expected to be announced today, ensuring that the vote coincides with county council elections.