Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Lib-Dems Pin Hopes on Antiwar Voters

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Lib-Dems Pin Hopes on Antiwar Voters

Article excerpt

Byline: BEN LEAPMAN

TOMORROW is a big day for Britain's political leaders. Nearly 40 million people have a chance to vote in local elections.

Today, all parties make a final push for votes, campaigning on the issues from council tax to crime where town halls can make a difference.

Yet voters will use the poll to give their verdict on the Government and opposition parties, and on the war in Iraq as well as subjects closer to home.

One key battleground is Watford, a prized capture from the Tories in Labour's 1997 landslide. Six years later, the Liberal Democrats are poised to complete a takeover of the local council and are turning their sights on the Parliamentary seat. BEN LEAPMAN reports.

Appeal: Liberal Democrat Shanaz Ali with resident Miles Eagling in Watford where the party is poised to steal votes from the Labour heartland

CHARLES KENNEDY'S opposition to the war in Iraq is bringing the Liberal Democrats new support from Muslim voters ahead of tomorrow's local elections.

Lib-Dem activists believe they will capture council seats from Labour in areas with large Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities.

That could swing the overall outcome in key battlegrounds where the Lib-Dems have replaced the Tories as the main opposition to Labour.

In Watford, the Lib-Dems are seeking to win control of a hung council on which Labour is the largest party.

While Home Secretary David Blunkett claims a " Baghdad bounce" has boosted Labour's standing in traditional working-class neighbourhoods, the pattern is different elsewhere.

Although Britain's 1.5 million-Muslims make up only three per cent of the population, their votes are often concentrated in particular council wards.

Most have voted Labour in the past.

A canvassing trip around Watford's Vicarage ward with the Lib- Dem candidate Shanaz Ali uncovered half a dozen voters from the local Pakistani community who said they were converts to the Lib-Dem cause. …

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