Labour sticks with key seat strategy

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Indy Politics
Labour activists have been warned by John Prescott, the party's deputy leader, that they must "keep their eye on the ball" of an election strategy that could deliver Tony Blair a working Commons majority of about 65 seats.

The party's current "key seats strategy" is targeted on 90 marginal Tory constituencies that would fall to Labour on a swing of up to 8 per cent.

But the 17 per cent swing from the Tories to Labour in Wirral South has prompted some constituencies to ask party headquarters to "lift their sights", giving special assistance to seats that would be vulnerable to a Labour landslide.

Firmly resisting that plea, Mr Prescott told a party meeting in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, last weekend: "We must keep our eye on the main ball, keep the existing strategy, and keep working at it. The key-seats strategy is working, it worked well in Wirral South, and it will see us through."

A senior party source said yesterday that it had taken 18 months to build up the machinery in the 90 target seats, with trained volunteers being drafted in from other constituencies, "switching" voters identified, and contact maintained with them.

On the "other side", it was said that the Conservatives were being handicapped by the fact that they had lost so many councillors over recent years, and that Tory MPs were so worried about protecting their own seats that they were unwilling to help their more marginal colleagues. "The only thing they've got going for them is money, now thought to be about pounds 40m. If they could buy victory, they would," the source said.

It is believed that the key-seats strategy was proved in Wirral South, although one Wirral source said during the campaign that Mr Blair's office had "wobbled" at one point. There was even a Westminster suggestion that Birkenhead MP Frank Field might be put in charge of the local campaign.

A party spokesman told The Independent yesterday: "There is some pressure for us to increase the target list, but we are going to stick to the existing strategy." However, he said it was always possible that other seats could fall to Labour during an election campaign, and different "degrees of assistance" could be provided.

The spokesman said it was "preposterous" to think Labour was now heading for a national swing of 17 per cent, and that the party should dilute its efforts in the key seats - even by increasing its target to the 104 Tory seats that would fall on a swing of up to 9 per cent to Labour.

A special by-election effort had been put into Wirral South, and although polls suggested Labour would hold the seat in the general election, that did not mean other, equally "safe" Tory seats were now vulnerable to Labour.