Public services top Labour's poll agenda

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Labour will fight the local authority and European Parliament elections in June on public services in an attempt to switch the spotlight away from Iraq and the proposed European Union constitution.

Labour will fight the local authority and European Parliament elections in June on public services in an attempt to switch the spotlight away from Iraq and the proposed European Union constitution.

Despite Tony Blair's decision to call a referendum on the constitution, Labour will argue that the debate on it cannot begin in earnest until the blueprint has been approved by EU leaders, who will not make a decision until a Brussels summit a week after the elections.

Mr Blair faced further problems yesterday over his referendum pledge. Downing Street denied reports that Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, was unhappy about the move, and the Labour backbencher Kate Hoey said in an interview for GMTV's Sunday Programme that 40 or 50 Labour MPs could vote against the constitution.

Mr Blair has drawn up his strategy for the June elections with the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, the Labour chairman, Ian McCartney, and Douglas Alexander, a Cabinet Office minister and Labour's campaign co-ordinator.

At stake are: All 78 UK seats in the European Parliament; 4,807 council seats in England on 144 authorities; all 1,264 council seats in Wales; the Mayor of London; and all 25 seats on the Greater London Assembly.

Labour fears a "bloody nose". The party will warn voters tempted to protest over Iraq by voting Liberal Democrat or abstaining that they will "let the Tories in". Amid fears of a low turnout, Labour will try to motivate its traditional supporters by warning that the Tories would cut local authority services.

Professional "AB1" voters, particularly in London, are seen as most likely to protest over Iraq. Labour also fears it will lose scores of inner-city council seats as Muslim voters desert the party. A special campaign to target them is being drawn up.

Labour will put its efforts into public services, turning the campaign into a dry run for the next general election. Labour's private polling, disclosed to The Independent, suggests that more than 50 per cent of people believe their circumstances have improved but that has not yet translated into their view of public services. More than 60 per cent of voters fear "Tory cuts".

Mr Blair and his lieutenants agreed to run a "positive" campaign to "talk up" services, economic prosperity and optimism, while accusing the Tories of "talking down" services in a strategy "based on pessimism".

A Labour source said yesterday: "We will talk about Iraq if people want to and we will spell out the benefits of the EU. But what most people want to talk about is public services."

Like the Tory party, Labour is playing down its prospects in the hope that this will limit the damage when the results are announced. The Tories have set themselves a target of securing 35 per cent of the votes, while Labour claims that Mr Howard's real goal is 42 per cent.

Labour's polling suggests immigration is top of voters' concerns but it believes the issue will not necessarily persuade people to switch parties. On Iraq, the damage may be confined to professional and Muslim voters, with most people saying Britain should "see through" what has been started.

Comments