September 26, 2009 9:41 PM

Reports the Conservatives have broken Labour's grip on its traditional northern heartlands may be premature - with the Liberal Democrats seen as a the main challengers, a political expert has warned.

Dr Nick Randall, senior lecturer in British politics at Newcastle University, said the Conservatives have a mountain to climb to win in the North East.

He was speaking after a report in a national newspaper that claimed the Conservatives were now four points ahead of their rivals in the North, attracting 35% of support to Labour's 31%.

The conclusion was made by analysing a range of recent polling data.

Dr Randall told the Northern Echo: "We don't know when the next General Election will take place, so anything can happen between now and then.

"If we look at the Conservatives in the North East, this is not a party with great strength on the ground.

"The Labour margins are diminishing in the North East, but the problem for the Conservatives is the Liberal Democrats.

"Many people might find it easier to vote Liberal than Conservatives.

"The Tories have a mountain to climb. The North East is very different to other parts of the country. I think we will end up with more Labour members than elsewhere.

"However, there will be people out there who think Labour has not done enough as poverty and anti-social behaviour is still a problem."