'Don't waste your vote' is parties' united plea - published 29 April

HYNDBURN'S five General Election candidates have entered the final week of campaigning and given electors a united message ... get out and vote.

Although the nominees stand for a variety of clashing policies, they all urged Hyndburn residents to play their part in the democratic process on Thursday.

Labour's Greg Pope, who described the seat as "always very close", said: "Turnout is the key to the election. Last time it was 59 per cent. Very early on in this campaign people were undecided about who to vote for, but that is changing as we get closer to election day. The vote for Labour seems to be firming up but we aren't taking it for granted. We are fighting for every single vote."

Conservative James Mawdsley does not believe voters will show apathy. He said Hyndburn residents know a lot is at stake.

"Both nationally and in Hyndburn, residents understand there are many things to fight for," he said.

"I've been pleased with the feedback on doorsteps. My campaign has gathered its own momentum and many have said they'll vote Conservative. People have generally been very supportive, even approaching me in the street to wish me good luck. The three main issues I have been asked about are health, pensions and pensioners, and education."

Liberal Democrat Bill Greene said disenchanted Labour voters were likely to stay at home, losing their chance to have their say.

He said: "Voters have been impressed with our plans to reform council tax and there have been many positive comments. But I noticed, where voters seemed negative, they were frustrated Labour supporters who probably won't vote.

"I have fears about the safety of postal votes, as have many people, but that wasn't a concern that voters aired during my canvassing."

Chris Jackson, of the BNP, said he was sure Labour would be punished in Hyndburn for the Iraq war.

He said: "The Lib Dems will get the best vote they've ever had here because of the war. We have had good feedback from a lot of people but others swore at us when we spoke to them. But it is important people vote for what they believe in."

Dr John Whittaker said no-one but his own Europe-blasting UK Independence Party had really addressed the issues that matter.

He said: "We've had no negative reaction. Voters know that Europe is the only big, single issue to matter. The other parties have just argued about the tiny things."

The hot potato of immigration - published 22 April

THE hot topic of immigration has made daily headlines since the General Election was called.

With parties embroiled in bitter rows over the issue, we approached all five candidates for their views. Is the current asylum system "out of control" as the Tories have claimed. Or are they merely stoking the flames and trying to capitalise on what has become an emotive issue for many voters?

Labour's plans include the introduction of controversial identity cards, ending the automatic right to bring relatives to the country and implementing an English language test for anyone wanting to live in Britain.

Greg Pope said: "I've been shocked by the way some politicians have sought to play on people's fears about immigration. They are playing with fire because the subject requires a calm, rational debate. The key to good race relations is having a sensible policy."

Conservative proposals include limiting the number of immigrants, processing asylum claims from abroad, setting up 24-hour surveillance at major ports and subjecting immigrants to health checks.

"If immigration is properly controlled it is a win-win situation," said Tory candidate James Mawdsley. "We welcome people who will work and pay tax, and they benefit from the availablility of jobs. In Hyndburn race relations are generally good thanks to the commitment of certain individuals and agencies.

"However, some people are genuinely distressed because it can appear that immigrants receive priority with grants and benefits. Where this is happening, it must stop. And where it's not happening, that message needs to be clearly communicated. I support the policy of an upper limit to immigration."

Liberal Democrat Bill Greene said: "I support the country's tradition of allowing those fleeing persecution into the country. There has been a move to right-wing policies, appealing to the lowest common denominator, and that's a dangerous situation."

Far-right candidate Chris Jackson, of the BNP, said: "The public were never asked if they wanted a multi-racial society. Our policy is a blanket repatriation and for all criminals in jail to be deported as soon as possible. Second and third generation immigrants wouldn't be exempt from deportation. We are victims of social engineering gone wrong."

Dr John Whittaker of UKIP said: "Immigration is out of control. No government will be able to do anything about it unless we withdraw from the European Union."

'OAPs hold the key to victory' - published 15 April

PENSIONERS hold the key to who becomes Hyndburn's next MP.

That is the claim from Age Concern's chief officer, Patrick Collister, who this week urged OAPs to question the borough's four parliamentary candidates about their policies on pensioner poverty, age discrimination and public services.

So we asked the men who will be hoping for your vote on Thursday 5 May for their views.

Labour's Greg Pope, 44, said: "Average pensioners are £29 a week better off since we came to power, and the poorest are £39 better off.

"The £200 allowances for winter fuel and help with council tax are now going to stay in place. There are free TV licences for the over-75s, free prescriptions, which the Tories scrapped, and free off-peak bus travel for the over-60s.

"Taken as a package, pensioners will share in the country's rising prosperity. Pensioners make up more than a quarter of Hyndburn's electorate. We've already done a lot for them but we can do a lot more."

Conservative James Mawdsley, 31, said the party's policies on law and order and juvenile nuisance would benefit the elderly.

"Every group is key to the electorate, but pensioners in particular need our protection and respect," he said.

"Elderly people are fed up with council tax rises and taxes on savings. Pensioners should have an elevated place in society because of their lifetimes of experience and hard work. We shouldn't simply value everything in terms of economic worth and output."

Liberal Democrat Bill Greene, 58, said: "I would want to go further than my party's policies to replace the council tax with a fairer local income tax and fairer pensions.

"There is a real problem with elderly women who have spent time out of work bringing children up and aren't treated fairly through pension provision. Their work as mothers is undervalued. All pensioners deserve to be treated fairly."

British National Party candidate Chris Jackson, 37, said: "We would put pensioners before immigrants. Those who have worked all their lives would get the first crack at the pot. Our policy would be tied in with those on law and order and crime and punishment. We want pensioners to walk the streets feeling safe."

Election fight begins at last - published 8 April

THE countdown to the General Election has finally begun.

This week Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed the worst-kept secret in politics, that the election will be held on Thursday 5 May.

So the starting pistol has been fired in the race to form the new Government - a race that promises to be one of the closest in years. And with the gloves coming off between the national leaders, campaigning looks likely to be as vicious as ever.

But not so among Hyndburn's three main candidates.

Labour MP Greg Pope said: "It will be a good clean fight about issues that matter to residents. We have agreed as much. It will be amicable.

"A key issue is the economy, which is stable, with unemployment right down and inflation at its lowest for a generation. It's a huge contrast to the boom and bust years of the Conservatives.

"Hard-working families in Hyndburn are better off under Labour and don't want to put that at risk with the Conservatives."

Mr Pope said Labour would deliver a "world-class health service", focus on education and provide more police.

But he acknowledged the controversial war in Iraq, which he voted for, might cost him votes. He said: "It was far and away the most difficult decision I have ever had to make."

Conservative candidate James Mawdsley, 31, promised to shout loud and long for Hyndburn if elected.

He said: "My first role in Parliament would be to fight for Hyndburn residents, whether a Labour or Conservative Government was in power.

"I don't think Hyndburn has had the representation and attention it deserves, it has been overlooked. I am campaigning hard on education, pensions and health issues.

"The feedback so far has been good. Two ladies who used to vote Labour have been handing out my leaflets. But we can take nothing for granted. Anything could happen in this election."

Bill Greene, whose Lib-eral Democrat Party is campaigning for a fairer alternative to the council tax andstressing that it opposed the Iraq war, said: "There is enormous wealth in this country and the right, fair amount isn't coming to Hyndburn.

"The borough has been let down by Labour. I want to improve the chances of everyone in Hyndburn, especially youngsters and pensioners who have contributed so much to society but aren't being repaid."

Nominations for the election close on Tuesday 19 April.

British National Party candidate Chris Jackson said he would be protesting about the loss of manufacturing jobs in Hyndburn.

He said: "It's comparable to Burnley, where people have left and houses are boarded up. I will also be campaigning on immigration, asylum and crime and punishment."

He added that the BNP believed in bringing back capital punishment.