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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 April, 2005, 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK
Parties challenge Labour fortress
By Mark Denten
Political Correspondent BBC North East and Cumbria

Ballot Box
The region has 28 Labour MPs and just one Tory and one Lib Dem
In past general elections the North East has been a Labour fortress.

The region has 28 Labour MPs, and just one each for the Tories and Lib Dems.

Now those figures might be enough to make Tony Blair feel all warm and cosy this election time. But Labour faces some key challenges.

In Blaydon, the Lib Dems have been steadily improving their position. In 2001 Peter Maughan saw his vote increase by 10%.

Turning tide

Labour's Dave Anderson is hoping to replace the current MP John McWilliam who is stepping down after 26 years in Parliament.

Further south, the Lib Dems also have their eyes on the City Of Durham. The place may have been in Labour hands since 1935 but there are signs that the tide is turning.

The Lib Dems now control the city council and reckon they can add an MP here. Again, the sitting MP Gerry Steinburg is retiring.

Labour MP Jim Cousins looks comfortable in Newcastle Central with a majority of 11,500 but the Lib Dems took control of Newcastle council last June. This election will give us an idea whether Charles Kennedy's troops can translate council success to a General Election.

In Hartlepool, the weary voters find themselves going back to the polling booths just eight months after a by-election. Labour's Iain Wright is defending a 14,000 majority.But all eyes will be on whether UKIP can repeat their by election performance and beat the Conservatives.

Sole survivor

Elsewhere, though, Labour is defending solid, and in some cases, downright enormous majorities.

Former miner John Cummings has a 29,000 majority in Easington. The prime minister is sitting on a cushion of 18,000 votes in Sedgefield. Low turnout could squeeze some of those big majorities, but around three quarters of the North East's seats can still be considered safe Labour.

So what of the Conservatives? At the moment Peter Atkinson in Hexham is the sole survivor for the party in the region.

The Tories are gunning for Tynemouth though - a seat they lost in 1997. Now Michael Mcintyre is hoping to build on two mayoral election wins in the area and unseat Labour MP Alan Campbell.

And in Stockton South - a seat which has been held by all three parties - Tory hopes are pinned on someone who used to pour pints in the Rover's Return.

The Tories hope James Gaddas - one time Vinny in Coronation Street - will call time on Labour MP Dari Taylor.