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Friday, 31 March, 2000, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Labour brainstorms for election
Ministers are meeting at Chequers
Prime Minister Tony Blair is meeting his cabinet colleagues in what is believed to be a brainstorming session aimed at averting a potential local elections crisis.

Ministers have gathered at Chequers where they are believed to be discussing predicted losses in next month's local elections - possibly the last before the next General Election.

According to an internal memo leaked to the Guardian newspaper, the performance is likely to be Labour's worst in almost a decade.

The memo, written by Local Government Minister Hilary Armstrong and Cabinet Office Minister Ian McCartney, called on ministers to try to halt losses in marginal towns and cities.

Every year we see Labour engaging in incredibly crude attempts to downplay expectations of what is going to happen

Tory MP Andrew Lansley
Labour is defending 1,550 of the 3,337 seats last contested in 1996 when local election success over the Conservatives heralded victory in the subsequent general election.

However Ms Armstrong later insisted the memo was merely a standard reminder.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "This is a letter that has been sent by myself and Ian McCartney, the campaign leader, to other ministers asking them to make sure that they make time to campaign in their diaries.

"This is normal, that we simply make sure we have a system in order to get effective campaigning. We want to make sure that the Labour Party does as well as possible."

She accepted that Labour was unlikely to do as well in the May elections as the last time the seats were contested.

Hilary Armstrong
Hilary Armstrong: Memo was leaked
"In 1996, the electoral year that this year is compared with, we did better than any year in our history and the Tories did worse than they have done in their history," she said.

"It would be a bit of a surprise, to put it mildly, if we simply did the same as then.

But the leaked memo has already been attacked as a deliberate attempt by Labour to soften the impact of the forthcoming polls.

Tory shadow cabinet minister Andrew Lansley told the BBC: "Every year we see Labour engaging in incredibly crude attempts to downplay expectations of what is going to happen.

"In local government by-elections over the last few months, the Conservative Party has begun to run ahead of the Labour Party.

"Labour has let people down and people know they have failed to deliver on health, education and transport and the Conservative Party have got policies coming forward that people want to sign up to."

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