Smith on the stump in Eastleigh

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Indy Politics
LABOUR'S determination to be seen as a serious contender for the Eastleigh by-election reaches a rare height tonight when John Smith, the party leader, makes an appearance on the stump even before the contest has been called, writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

The fielding of such a heavyweight politician some six weeks before the probable date of 5 May is thought to be virtually unprecedented.

The Labour leader has also eschewed the mere pressing of flesh in a whistle-stop shopping centre walkabout for a serious speech, followed by question-and-answer session, at an old-style public meeting in a local school.

Mr Smith, accompanied by Marilyn Birks, the Labour candidate, will exploit Labour's government-in-waiting status, in contrast to the Liberal Democrats. But the decision to put him up now will hand his opponents a ready weapon in the event of defeat, which would come most likely at the hands of the Liberal Democrats.