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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 11:51 GMT 12:51 UK
Leaders hit election trail
All three party leaders are hoping  to garner support ahead of 2 May
The leaders of Britain's three main political parties have taken to the campaign trail on Thursday with the English local elections just a week away.

In the wake of the shock success of the far-right in France, politicians will be fighting for every single vote ahead of the 2 May poll.

About 6,000 seats in more than 150 local authorities are up for grabs - many of them in the UK's biggest cities.

Tony Blair
Mr Blair is going to Birmingham
Prime Minister Tony Blair is in Birmingham where he will visit a community centre before going on to a series of other engagements.

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith is taking his party's campaign to Sale, in north west England before heading to Halifax and Leeds in Yorkshire.

And Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy kicked off his day's campaigning in Milton Keynes before going on to Oxford.

Uphill struggle?

Labour has the most to lose in the elections - a fact acknowledged by chairman Charles Clarke at the launch of Labour's campaign earlier this month.

Iain Duncan Smith
Mr Duncan Smith is hoping to revive his party's fortunes
He said the poll could be an uphill struggle as the party is defending the "high base line" of a successful result in 1998.

"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.

Mr Duncan Smith, however, hopes that the local elections will provide the springboard to recovery the Tories need after two disastrous general election results.

They will be focusing on decentralising power down to the local level for councils, schools and health authorities.

The Tory leader has accused Labour of centralising decision making and he is hoping to make up ground by appealing to the "most vulnerable" in society.

At the Lib Dems' campaign launch a week ago, Mr Kennedy said his party hoped to make gains off both the Conservatives and Labour.

National Front

They believe that local councils should be set free to provide quality public services that meet the needs of local people.

Charles Kennedy
Charles Kennedy hopes to score of both seats his main rivals
The Lib Dems' local government spokesman, Don Foster, has said he wants local councils to be able to raise a greater proportion of their own revenue and be able to decide how to spend that money.

All the political parties have expressed alarm of the outcome of the first round of the French presidential elections which saw National Front lead Jean-Marie Le Pen beating prime minister Lionel Jospin into third place and out of the contest.

The limited success of the far-right during the UK's last general election coupled with a seemingly irreversible trend of low turnouts by voters will see all the mainstream political parties redoubling their efforts in the coming week.

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