Lib-Dem leadership contenders tour country in last dash for votes

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Indy Politics

The two contenders for the Liberal Democrat leadership will criss-cross the country next week in search of votes as both camps predicted the battle for the party's crown will go to the wire. Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg will enter a crucial week tomorrow, with thousands of grassroots activists expected to cast their postal ballots within days.

Backers of both candidates admitted that canvass returns showed that up to 40 per cent of the party's rank and file remained undecided, leaving the race potentially wide open.

Supporters of Mr Clegg, the party's home affairs spokesman, said they had a clear lead over Mr Huhne, the environment spokes-man, with canvass results showing a 60/40 majority their favour. Mr Huhne's allies insisted they were "closing" on the bookies' favourite and said the large number of floating voters would be crucial.

Mr Clegg and Mr Huhne travel to Manchester today for one of the major party hustings of the campaign, before campaigning in Devon and Cornwall tomorrow. They will go head to head at the Confederation of British Industry in Islington on Monday when they face questions from business leaders. The contenders will then lock horns at the party's London hustings on Tuesday, the last chance for members to question the two candidates.

Yesterday, Mr Clegg's campaign said it had support from 39 of the party's MPs, 400 councillors, 25 council leaders and 33 council group leaders. One ally said: "Our canvassing shows support at about 60/40 for Nick. We will keep going through the final hours."

Mr Huhne's team said they had the backing of 2,000 members, and pledges of active support from 1,200. A supporter of Mr Huhne said: "Our canvass returns show we are closing on Mr Clegg. And there is evidence of about 40 per cent of people being undecided."

Ballot papers were sent to the 64,000 Liberal Democrat members on Wednesday. They must be returned by 15 December, and the winner will be announced on 17 December.

Both candidates oppose the introduction of ID cards. Mr Clegg has called Britain a "surveillance society". He said: "Now the Government is seeking to introduce another form of surveillance: ID cards."

Mr Huhne challenged the Prime Minister yesterday to resign if the ID cards system results in data leaks similar to the loss of child benefit details for 7 million families from HM Revenue and Customs.