Ashdown begins city challenge

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PADDY ASHDOWN, leader of the Liberal Democrats, yesterday sought to position his party as the champions of the inner city in a new campaigning effort timed for the May local elections.

In a concerted effort to break into the Tory-Labour contests in much of inner-city politics - including that in most London boroughs - Paddy Ashdown said the party was determined to challenge 'the assumption that we are merely the party of the Celtic finge and more rural seats in the South-west'.

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, said the party was expecting voters 'to reclaim their cities and towns from the perceived Tory spivs of central government and the organised Labour mobs'.

Liberal Democrats leaders hope to exorcise the complaints of racist campaigning literature in the Liberal Democrat-controlled borough of Tower Hamlets.

The party document, Reclaiming the City, calls for: the recreation of urban democracy - including 'issue-based consultations with the community'; rebuilding urban economies with local labour agreements in urban renewal schemes, and community enterprise agencies; and the encouragement of 'urban villages' and reform of the council house allocation system to encourage community development. It also seeks more community policing with more small neighbourhood police offices.

The party also wants reform of the local taxation system with an end to the Uniform Business Rate and its replacement with 'site value rating'.