Tory leader David Cameron was back in Norwich yesterday launching an attack on “Labour spin” over its spending cuts claims, as an opinion poll suggested that his party had a narrow lead of less than 5pc in the forthcoming by-election.
Mr Cameron was campaigning with Tory candidate Chloe Smith at the NHS Walk-in Centre in Dussindale, near Norwich, praising the Conservative-run county council for its idea for adapting the site into a Surestart centre for children after it closes.
Labour's embryonic campaign has targeted the Tories with claims their spending plans, if in power, would see up to two Surestart centres close in the city and fewer police.
But Mr Cameron rubbished the suggestions which have appeared in a recent Labour newsletter sent to hundreds of homes in the city, and denied the party was vulnerable on social issues.
He also knocked back any idea that the nation's parlous finances could see the Tories reluctant to support funding for the Norwich northern bypass (NDR), or that they would prefer to see a toll road built.
“There is a road programme and the NDR has got an extremely strong case and Conservatives have been campaigning for it, whereas Labour has been lukewarm,” he said.
“Labour's leaflets are, frankly, appalling,” he added. “I was just blown away by what I read. How Gordon Brown can say he has got a moral compass, I just do not know.
“Here we are in a health centre that is being shut under the Labour government and it is the local Conservative-controlled county council that is giving us the choice of reopening it.”
There is still no date set for the by-election, but yesterday an opinion poll of 500 Norwich voters found that 34pc would vote Tory, compared to 30pc for Labour, 15pc for the Lib Dems, and 14pc for the Greens.The poll, by the University and College Union comes even before Labour selects a candidate on Sunday and may boost hopes the party could run the Tories closer than previously thought.
Mr Cameron also paid tribute to former Norwich North MP Ian Gibson, stating he was a “respected” and independent voice in Parliament, but he declined to say whether Dr Gibson would have faced the same fate if he had been a Conservative MP.
“I don't know enough about the individual facts of this case,” he said. “He clearly had some big questions to answer.”
And he fended off claims that 27-year-old Miss Smith was too young and inexperienced to be an MP, and said the campaign would be as much about local issues as the need for a change of government.
“The most important thing is that Norwich should choose the best Member of Parliament and in Chloe Smith we have got an outstanding candidate, who is Norfolk through and through, lives in Norwich, and has got a very good business career under way,” he said.
Meanwhile, as the 'non-election' campaign continues, culture secretary Ben Bradshaw will be in Norwich visiting youngsters at Sparhawk Infant and Nursery school in Sprowston on Monday.
And Nigel Farage leader of the UK Independence Party will also be canvassing in the city on Sunday and Monday.
SHAUN LOWTHORPELast updated: 27/06/2009 00:01:00