Huhne to cite Thatcher's record in bid to keep seats

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Indy Politics

The Liberal Democrats will launch an anti-Tory rebuttal unit to counter-attack Conservative attempts to capture their seats at the next election.

The "aggressive" unit will be spearheaded by the frontbencher Chris Huhne, who has a perilous 568-majority over the Conservatives in his Eastleigh seat. It will dissect policies proposed by David Cameron and turn the spotlight on the record of the Thatcher and Major governments.

The Conservatives are the main challengers in most of the Lib Dems' 63 parliamentary seats. Their resurgence under Mr Cameron leaves a swath of Lib Dem-held constituencies – notably in south-west London, Hampshire, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall – vulnerable to Tory candidates.

So grave are the Lib Dems' potential problems in the south-west of England that they will draft in their former leader Lord Ashdown, who was the MP for Yeovil, to front their general election campaign in the region.

Mr Huhne, the Lib Dem home affairs spokesman, will fire his opening salvo today when he will tell the Lib Dem conference that crime and unemployment would rocket under a Cameron government.

Mr Huhne, a former Independent journalist and City economist, is considered one of the party's heaviest hitters. He came within 1 per cent of defeating Nick Clegg for the party leadership two years ago.

His anti-Tory unit will also contain Norman Lamb, the health spokesman and MP for Norfolk North, and Lord Oakeshott, a Treasury spokesman.

Mr Huhne will argue in his address to the Bournemouth conference that successive Tory governments failed disastrously on law and order. He will also denounce Conservative economic policy, claiming it would choke off Britain's recovery from recession.