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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 30 April, 2002, 14:12 GMT 15:12 UK
Crime dominates polls race
Tony Blair meets teenagers at a pupil referral centre
Tony Blair is not backing down on anti-truancy
Crime is dominating the battle for local council seats as Tony Blair puts the problem at the heart of his party's local election campaigns.

The prime minister is sticking with the theme despite widespread criticism for a leaked proposal to dock the child benefit of parents of persistent truants.


The local services matter, the local people matter, and if they matter, the vote matters

Tony Blair

With the local polls just a day away, Labour's record in its five years in power came under attack on Tuesday from both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith continued his campaign trail while high profile defectors to the Lib Dems outlined why they had felt let down by Labour.

Respect

In a party election broadcast to be broadcast on Tuesday night, Mr Blair says anti-social behaviour is the "single biggest problem" facing people throughout society.

"We have a duty to give respect back to the society in which you live," he is filmed telling a selected audience of Labour supporters in Dudley, West Midlands.

Iain Duncan Smith
Duncan Smith says Labour is offering only gimmicks
The prime minister also points to the Budget boost for health as evidence of a clear difference between Labour and the Conservatives.

Ahead of Thursday's elections, all parties are worried about low turnout at the polls.

Mr Blair uses the broadcasts to urge voters to make their mark in the elections, which he stresses are important.

Local services

"It's a great democratic right that we've got," he says.

"It matters, the local services matter, the local people matter, and if they matter, the vote matters."

Elsewhere on Tuesday Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith met members of the Bangladeshi community and visited a CCTV camera scheme in London as part of his continued campaigning on the issue.

Theresa May, shadow transport and local government secretary
Ms May says the Tories face a tough battle at local elections
Earlier, shadow transport and local government secretary Theresa May admitted Thursday's local elections were going to be tough for the Conservatives.

"We do expect to make some modest gains on Thursday night," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"But these are hard elections for us. They are in urban areas and traditional Labour strongholds."

Mrs May said rising council tax and crime were the key issues on the doorstep.

"Labour and the Liberal Democrats are charging higher council tax and failing to deliver," she continued.

Claire Rayner, television agony aunt
Claire Rayner attacked Labour's record with vulnerable people

But it was possible to improve services without increasing council tax.

Mrs May also backed the use of community wardens, as in the Conservative-controlled Kent County Council, to tackle crime - but only as a stop-gap until more police officers can be recruited.

Councils had to make sure "the environment in which people are living is a quality environment", she said.

Defection gathering

Lib Dem MP Paul Marsden led a panel of fellow defectors from Labour as he attacked the government's "obsession with spin".

He was joined by television agony aunt Claire Rayner, who said Labour's "betrayal of some of the most vulnerable people in society" had turned her away from the party.

"It seems to me quite unfair - indeed cruel - that people with cancer should be entitled to free treatment but that people with Alzheimer's should not," said Ms Rayner.

Comedian Sandi Toksvig and QC Anthony Scrivener were other recruits flaunted by the Lib Dems.

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy said Labour had started out with much good will but that had been lost in "a story of wasted opportunities".


Talking PointTALKING POINT
Parents of unruly teenagers could have their child benefit taken away - what do you think of the idea?Benefit threat
Is youth crime idea workable?

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See also:

29 Apr 02 | UK Politics
24 Apr 02 | UK Politics
16 Apr 02 | UK Politics
28 Apr 02 | UK Politics
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