Parties make last push for votes in Brent

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Indy Politics

The streets of Brent in north London were awash with MPs yesterday when Labour and the Liberal Democrats made a finalpush for votes in today's by-election.

Labour sent ateam of health ministers to support its candidate, Robert Evans, while the Liberal Democrats cancelled their weekly meeting for MPs and ordered all 53 to go out canvassing in the constituency of Brent East. The race for the seat is so close that the parties are battling for a few thousand votes.

Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat candidate, said yesterday that the election was "too close to call". Her party was prepared for a recount. "I am feeling very positive about the result," she said after a walkabout with Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, in Neasden. "The reception I have been getting has been excellent. Labour members are coming into our offices to help."

A defeat for Labour would be an indictment of the Government and its stance on the war and public services. The party's jitters over losing the poll or surviving with a tiny majority are evident.

John Prescott told Labour MPs last week of the "importance of the campaign" and instructed every MP to fill out a form committing them to help. Labour says that 200 MPs - including many of the Cabinet - have answered the call. A Labour Party spokesman said: "From the thousands of doors knocked on over the last two months the Labour vote is holding up."

Ken Livingstone, who held the seat for Labour before he was thrown out of the party in 2000, was mobilised to bolster its flagging vote. He may be a pariah in Downing Street, but he is a hero in Brent, where old Labour politics are firmly on display. He was greeted enthusiastically by parents outside a school.

But the Liberal Democrats were thought to be close to toppling Labour's 13,000 majority from the 2001 election, when the seat was won by Paul Daisley. He died of cancer in June. The party has drafted in hundreds of volunteers in its bid to win the seat. Yesterday, each household in the constituency received a personal letter from Mr Kennedy.

He wrote: "People I have met in your area feel let down by Labour locally and by Tony Blair nationally."

Ladbrokes' latest odds put Labour and the Liberal Demo-crats neck and neck with the Tories trailing at 16-1.