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EDITIONS
Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Labour's local election warning
Riots
Blunkett accuses BNP of "stoking hate" which led to riots
Labour faces a tough battle at next month's local elections, party chairman Charles Clarke has warned activists.

The May 2 poll will be the first major test of Labour's popularity since last year's general election victory.

But Mr Clarke said it could be an uphill struggle as the party is defending the "high base line" of a successful result in 1998.

Speaking at the launch of Labour's local election campaign, he said local issues would be more crucial than ever.

Low turnout

"These are less and less a verdict on Government in power and more and more focused on local issues and we believe that will continue to be the case," Mr Clarke said.

Blunkett
Blunkett urged all parties to take on the BNP
Labour will be running individual campaigns in each of the 174 councils where seats were being contested.

But they will be backed by strong central support with 150 ministerial visits planned for the campaign, Mr Clarke said.

Labour would be particularly targeting women, ethnic minority and younger voters - groups where turnout has recently been low.

'Fires of hate'

Home Secretary David Blunkett urged activists from all mainstream parties to take on the far right British National Party (BNP) at the local elections.

The BNP is expected to take advantage of low turnouts to increase its share of the vote in certain constituencies.

Mr Blunkett accused it of stoking the "fires of hate" which led to last summer's riots in northern cities such as Bradford and Oldham.

He said Labour was putting in "enormous amounts of time and energy" to countering the threat posed by the BNP in those areas where it was strong."

Experiments

Nearly 6,000 council seats are up for re-election in May across one hundred and seventy four local authorities, including all the London boroughs and the metropolitan districts in England.

Seven local authorities are holding elections for mayors, including Doncaster and Middlesbrough.

There will also be experiments to increase turnout, including postal ballots in some areas and online voting.

The party leadership are anxious to avoid losing control of high profile councils such as Birmingham.

Behind the scenes officials are predicting next week's budget could impact heavily on results.

Chancellor Gordon Brown is widely expected to increase taxes to pay for improvements to the health service.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will launch their campaigns next week.

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