Liberal Democrats: On course for best result in 80 years

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Indy Politics

The Liberal Democrats are heading for their best election result since 1923 as they begin their final push to ensure gains from both Labour and the Tories.

The Liberal Democrats are heading for their best election result since 1923 as they begin their final push to ensure gains from both Labour and the Tories.

Charles Kennedy is on course to gain a clutch of Labour-held seats and to match the record share of the vote gained during the heyday of the SDP-Liberal Alliance in 1983. Liberal Democrat strategists said yesterday national polls were underestimating the gains they were making, particularly in marginal seats.

Liberal Democrat strategists are confident Labour seats in Birmingham Yardley and Cardiff Central will be their first gains.

Canvass returns are also showing a surge of support in Brent East, the by-election gain for Charles Kennedy, which Labour predicted it would take back.

Liberal Democrat insiders say the "Iraq factor" is helping them make inroads into Labour strongholds - students and pensioners are attracted by, among other things, the promise of higher pensions and free personal care. The party is confident of winning 70 seats, and some are hoping for85. It is also hopeful of gains from Tories, including South West Surrey which is being vacated by Virginia Bottomley, the former cabinet minister.

The party believes it will break through the 59-seat ceiling set by Lloyd George in 1929, with their best result since 1923 when the Liberals had 158 MPs. They are also on course to match their 25 per cent share of the vote in 1983.

At a rally in London yesterday, Charles Kennedy said the party was heading for "record levels of support". It wasattended by Brian Sedgemore, the retiring Labour MP who defected to the Liberal Democrats last week. Mr Kennedy said: "Labour and Tony Blair are running scared. They are reduced to making unfounded claims about their opponents rather than having the confidence to stand on their record."

But the Liberal Democrats are worried they could lose some of their own marginals to the Tories unless Labour voters back them tactically to keep the Conservatives out. They say seats such as Cheadle, where they scraped home with a majority of 33 in 2001, are vulnerable unless Labour voters back them.

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