ONE of the Conservative Party's most senior figures today insisted that they would not be pushed to one side in the forthcoming election campaign in the region.

Theresa May, the Tories' high-profile Shadow Secretary of State for the Family, said that the Tories would be taking their message directly to the hard-working families who felt "let down by Mr Blair's eight years of broken promises".

"I don't consider the North-East to be a two-horse race," she said, "I don't consider it to be a fiefdom of any particular party.

"What is important is that voters are being asked to reward Mr Blair for eight years of failure, but there is another way.

Although the Conservatives have named four target seats across the region, there are two in particular in their sights: Stockton South, where Labour is defending a majority of just under 9,100 and Tynemouth, where the majority is 8,700.

Ms May visited both constituencies today to rally support and spoke to the party faithful at St James' Park, home of Newcastle United.

She said: "I am not someone who puts numbers in terms of seats as a matter of principle, but we want to take to the people of the North-East the clear message that if they are fed up with Tony Blair's broken promises then there is a clear choice for them, there is a better way, and that is to vote for the Conservative Party."

Ms May said the party had taken heart from the experience of November's referendum on a directly-elected assembly for the North-East, when the Conservatives were the only major party to urge the people to vote No.

"The Conservative Party was willing to take a stand on that issue," she said. "Both John Prescott and Charles Kennedy said if you vote no you are effectively voting with the Conservatives, but people stood up and were counted because they did not want another layer of bureaucracy.

"I believe we can build on that and increase our support precisely because there are so many hardworking families in the North-East who feel that they have been ignored and that the Government hasn't been delivering on the things that really matter to them.

"In the Conservative Party, they will see a party willing to take a stand on the issues that we believe in."

Ms May stressed that the party would fight to reward hardworking Britons with value for money and lower taxes, restore discipline in schools by giving head teachers more control, clean up hospitals by giving matrons the power to close MRSA-affected wards, limits on immigration and extra police on the streets.