POLITICAL contenders battling to prize the Truro and St Austell parliamentary constituency from the grasp of the Liberal Democrats on May 5 will have to overcome a majority of more than 8,000 votes.

Matthew Taylor, 42, who has held the parliamentary seat for the Liberal Democrats for nearly two decades, polled 21,784 votes in the 2001 general election. He came 8,065 votes ahead of his Conservative opponent.

Mr Taylor, who is defending the seat again, has said he wants to see Cornwall get a fair deal. He has said he would be campaigning for an end to unfair water bills, for council tax to be replaced by a local income tax and more affordable homes for local people.

His Conservative opponent is Dr Fiona Kemp, a West Cornwall GP. She has said her motivation for standing for parliament was her dismay at the current direction of the NHS under the Labour government.

She added she also wanted to do something constructive for the country and would love to represent the people of Cornwall.

Conservatives in the South West are campaigning for more police, cleaner hospitals, better school discipline, lower taxes and controlled immigration.

The Labour Party, who came third in 2001 with 6,889 votes, has selected Dr Charlotte Mackenzie to stand for them this time.

Dr Mackenzie is a self-employed educational consultant who was educated at Cambridge and London universities. Before going self-employed, she was an associate director of the Higher Education Funding Council.

She has pledged to campaign for affordable local housing, the best start for every child, better and faster NHS treatment, regional regeneration funding after 2006, and progress in 2005 to end world poverty.

David Noakes, 52, from Port Pendennis, in Falmouth, is carrying the UK Independence Party's banner into the election. Mr Noakes, a former Truro School pupil, is married with two children. He has worked for Holmans of Camborne and at Mount Wellington tin mine.

His party, which had a high profile split with Robert Kilroy Silk, is campaigning to end Britain's membership of the European Union. A spokesperson added that the party would stop the planting of GM crops in Britain without proper testing; increase state pensions by £25 a week; and half council tax by stopping Britain's subsidies to the EU.