RUTH Kelly could switch Parliamentary seats to avoid becoming a high-profile victim of any dip in support for Labour at the next General Election, according to senior party sources.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is at the centre of rumours linking her with a move from her marginal Bolton West constituency to the safer Bolton South-east seat.

Ms Kelly secured a third successive victory in the 2005 General Election with a narrow 2,064 majority, but Dr Brian Iddon, who is retiring ahead of the next poll, won Bolton South-east by 11,638 votes.

A senior Labour Party source said: "The rumours are buzzing around. We have 50 seats like Bolton West across the country and any indication that we can't hold seats like Ruth's is an admission we can't win the next election.

"It's also a slap in the face for Gordon Brown as it's saying he can't rely on the support of Middle England and will have the effect of making other MPs in marginal seats say if she can do it why can't we?'"

While party members in the Bolton North-east constituency this month confirmed their support for sitting MP David Crausby to defend his seat in a "trigger ballot", a date has yet to be set for a similar ballot in Bolton West.

The source said: "These votes normally take place in December or January so it's another indication a move could be on the cards."

Bolton West party chairman and Bolton Council leader Cllr Morris insisted constituencies had until June to hold a ballot, a date set by the party's national executive committee.

"Of course it will happen," he said. "It's done in phases. I've not heard anything about these rumours."

Dr Iddon said: "As soon as I announced my retirement in October these rumours started appearing on the internet but I don't know anything more about it."

He said there had been "a lot of interest" in the seat, with names in the frame including Tony Blair's speechwriter, Phillip Collins, a novelist from Ainsworth.

But the selection process will not begin until after the local elections in May.

A spokesman for Ms Kelly said: "She does not comment on speculation."