Lib Dems appeal for candidates

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Indy Politics
JOHN RENTOUL

Political Correspondent

The Liberal Democrats face the embarrassing prospect of being unable to field parliamentary candidates to fight every seat in London at the next general election, according to an internal party circular calling for anyone "remotely interested" to put themselves forward.

The call suggests that the party is weak in large parts of the capital, as it is squeezed by Tony Blair's "new" Labour Party.

A briefing for Liberal Democrat members in the London region appeals for volunteers to come forward. "If you or anyone you know in your area is remotely interested in fighting a seat at the general election, then now is the time to get an application form," it says.

The party has recently placed advertisements in the Liberal Democrat News for a "large number" of London constituencies. "Unfortunately, there have not been as many replies to these adverts as we . . . would have liked," the circular complains.

Frank Dobson, Labour's spokesman on London issues, said yesterday: "They'll soon have to start asking strangers in pubs. Even that'll fail . . . The Liberal Democrats have no ideas and are going nowhere. People know only Labour can put right the mess made by the Tories."

The Liberal Democrats are haunted by the eve-of-poll defection of their candidate for the by-election in Newham North East in 1994. Alec Kellaway, a former SDP defector from Labour, stunned the party in the east London borough by announcing he was rejoining Labour because he was so impressed by Mr Blair, who was already the favourite to succeed John Smith as Labour leader.

The Liberal Democrats' search for candidates has become more urgent as the Tory majority at Westminster is whittled away - most recently by the defection to the Liberal Democrats of Emma Nicholson.

In 53 of the 74 greater London constituencies, the Liberal Democrats are more than 20 per cent behind one or other of the two main parties.

So far, they have selected candidates in more than 250 out of the 641 seats in Great Britain, and a spokesman promised: "People will have the chance to vote Liberal Democrat wherever they are."

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