Lib Dems out to make gains

The Liberal Democrats launched their election campaign in the North-East yesterday with a claim they are ready to spread recent successes to the rest of the region.

The Liberal Democrats launched their election campaign in the North-East yesterday with a claim they are ready to spread recent successes to the rest of the region.

Chairman of campaigns Ed Davey insisted election victories in Durham City in 2003 and Newcastle in 2004 are not the height of Lib Dem ambitions in the North-East.

And he claimed the party's record in those cities would encourage voters elsewhere in the region to back them.

Launching the Lib Dems' manifesto for Newcastle, Mr Davey predicted: "We will make gains across the region." He pinpointed North Tyneside, Castle Morpeth and Berwick as key targets.

"People in the North-East put their trust in us in 2003-4 and they've seen what we can do in Newcastle and Durham and. They are saying they want some of that in their councils," Mr Davey said. Despite Labour accusations that Lib Dems are soft on crime and anti-social behaviour, he declared: "What Labour has done is talk tough and chase headlines when they should have been doing real measures that work and catching criminals. Labour's record in government on crime is pretty abysmal - they should be on the defensive."

He dismissed the Conservatives as a "nonentity" in the North-East, saying: "There's no David Cameron effect. He doesn't seem to be going down terribly well north of Watford."

But the Lib Dems opponents were last night quick to shoot down Mr Davey's bold forecast. Labour's leader in Newcastle, John O'Shea, said independent inspections had shown quality of services reducing, particularly for older people.

And after Mr Davey claimed "astonishing success" on keeping council tax down in Newcastle, Coun O'Shea pointed to £1.2m "wasted" on a no-car lane outside the civic centre and £3m planned expenditure on consultancy over a PFI project for maintaining roads.

"I don't think the Lib Dems have got anything to crow about. People thinking of voting Lib Dem should look at Newcastle and think again," he claimed.

Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Tynemouth, Wendy Morton, said the party is well placed in both North Tyneside and Sunderland, and has signalled its commitment to the North-East by the appointments of Alan Duncan as shadow minister for Tyneside and William Hague as chairman of its Northern board.

"I'm not so naive as to think that things are all plain sailing. We recognise that we have got work to do but we are doing something about it," she said.

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