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Election 2005: CABINETCLOSED; Only two Labour seats may qualify for visits by big guns.

Byline: By IAN HERNON Political Correspondent

LABOUR'S election heavyhitters will miss most of Merseyside because of a pounds 1m shortfall in campaign cash.

Party chiefs have ruled that only seats where Labour is defending majorities of around 5,000 will be regarded as 'key marginals' which can expect visits from Cabinet ministers and more war chest money for campaigning.

Across the region that will apply only to Wirral West, defended by Stephen Hesford with a 4,035 margin, and Wirral South, held by Ben Chapman with a 5,049 majority.

Most seats above that margin will not have automatic access to central party funds, although some will be classed as 'stand alone marginals' with extra help if necessary.

Priority cash and visits by Tony Blair and his top team will be focused on 77 constituencies across Britain which Labour must hold to retain an overall Commons majority.

Mr Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown visited Runcorn on Monday, but future trips to the north west may be scarce.

Labour insiders said that on Merseyside and across the wider region there will be some 'flexibility,' largely because in certain areas the Liberal Democrats are the main enemy.

Work and pensions minister Jane Kennedy can expect more help in Wavertree, despite her 12,319 majority, because it is a top target of the Lib Dems.

Most of the region's existing Labour constituencies have been categorised as either safe or stand-alone.

Labour chairman Ian McCartney, MP for Makerfield, has appealed for pounds 1m to boost the party's 'ground war' of constituency leafleting and other election material.

General secretary Matt Carter has asked for another pounds 50,000 in an e-mail plea sent direct to Labour rank-and-file members.

Labour's campaign is expected to cost pounds 15m but is around pounds 1m short. The Tories are spending up to pounds 20m, and the Liberal Democrats around pounds 4m

CAPTION(S):

TOGETHERNESS: Brown and Blair on the campaign trail in Runcorn this week
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 14, 2005
Words:326
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