Lib Dems predict photo finish in Hartlepool

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Indy Politics

Liberal Democrats are predicting a photo finish this week in the by-election contest to choose a successor to Peter Mandelson as MP for Hartlepool.

Liberal Democrats are predicting a photo finish this week in the by-election contest to choose a successor to Peter Mandelson as MP for Hartlepool.

"Labour's share of the vote has fallen to about 40 per cent, and I believe our vote could rise to 40 per cent," the Liberal Democrat campaign director, Lord Rennard, claimed yesterday.

The Liberal Democrats believe their candidate, Jody Dunn, has picked up support through a campaign to save the town's hospital from being downgraded.

Last week, the Labour candidate, Iain Wright, was jeered at a public meeting to discuss the hospital's future.

But Labour's organisers claim that their vote is holding up, largely because of their candidate's roots in the town, where he is a councillor.

Labour has run a campaign against "Jody Come Lately", accusing her of being an outsider and claiming she insulted Hartlepool with what began as a jokey entry on a website. It claimed that everyone she had met when canvassing in Hartlepool was "drunk, flanked by an angry dog or undressed".

Yesterday, Labour activists were giving out free CDs of a BBC interview in which she declined to apologise for the remarks. Labour whip Fraser Kemp said: "This is the beginning of the final weekend of the campaign and one thing is clear - the Lib Dem candidate is in free fall - she cannot bring herself to say three simple words: I am sorry."

The Liberal Democrats achieved swings of around 26 per cent in by-elections in the safe Labour seats of Leicester South and Birmingham Hodge Hill earlier in the year, capturing the Leicester seat. They would need a 23 per cent swing to take Hartlepool.

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