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Griffiths braced for tough election battle

Boundary changes and the Iraq war backlash threaten construction minister Nigel Griffiths' seat

CONSTRUCTION minister Nigel Griffiths is facing a major fight for survival in his parliamentary seat in the countdown to the general election on May 5.

Mr Griffiths - who has a majority of 5,499 - is up against stiff opposition from the Liberal Democrats, who have designated his Edinburgh South constituency third on their list of targets in Scotland.

The Liberal Democrats capitalised on voters' opposition to the Iraq war in the 2003 Scottish Parliament elections to take Edinburgh South from Labour with a 9 per cent swing.

A spokesman for candidate Marilyne MacLaren said: 'Nigel Griffiths is a minister, so he doesn't have the presence in the constituency. He had to toe the line over things such as Iraq, which wasn't popular.

'We have had many Labour party activists defecting to us and we are very confident that we can repeat 2003 and take the seat.We were in second place in the 2001 general election.'

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy and foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell have pencilled in visits during the campaign.

Although he has held the seat since 1987, Mr Griffiths' problems have been increased by boundary changes in Edinburgh, which have reduced parliamentary seats from six to five.He has inherited Conservative voters from the old Edinburgh Pentlands constituency, turning the seat into a potential three-way fight.

Central support from Labour is unlikely as the party has cut back its spending to concentrate on key marginal seats with majorities of less than 5,000.

Transport secretary Alistair Darling is fighting the enlarged Edinburgh South West constituency and faces an even tougher job to hold the seat, which had a majority of 1,700 in 2001.

One Scottish insider said: 'Darling has got a big fight on his hands. If the Labour party sends help to Scotland it's going to be for the cabinet minister.'

Nigel Griffiths' constituency office declined to comment.

The Sergeant-At-Arms office of the House of Commons has confirmed it is investigating the misuse of pre-paid envelopes by Mr Griffiths. The allegations centre on mailouts to constituents in the Edinburgh Pentlands seat brought into Edinburgh South.Technically they will not be his constituents until after the election if he holds his seat.