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Programme highlights Monday, 8 January, 2001, 17:07 GMT
The election starts here
Tony Blair has fired the starting pistol for the general election - without giving any clue about where the finishing line might be.

The Prime Minister, in his interview with Sir David Frost on Sunday, made no attempt to dampen down election speculation.

Instead, he offered his view on what the most important issue would be: the economy.

In 1997, he and his colleagues spent a considerable time trying to eradicate the traditional view that Labour in power would always raise taxes in order to increase public spending.

In that atmosphere, and under the influence of Gordon Brown's new friend Prudence, the government imposed strict limits on any increases in spending on public services.

New money

This two-year period of self-imposed restraint has certainly changed perceptions about Labour's attitude to taxing and spending. But it has also put the public services under intense pressure.

Now, as Mr Blair was keen to stress yesterday, money is coming forward on a broad front for investment in schools, hospitals and the police.

In some cases, long-term commitments have been made - for instance, under the terms of the National Plan for the NHS.

But ministers have also shown their willingness to carry out some judicious fire-fighting: recent stories about teacher shortages, and the threat of cancelled lessons, have produced a rapid injection of funds to attract and retain staff in problem schools.

While the two main parties have become involved in what sometimes look like an auction over the provision of more police officers.

Tony Blair clearly hopes that the impression will be left in the mind of voters of 'work in progress'; at the same time, Gordon Brown is proposing tax cuts targeted at those most in need - pensioners, families and the poor.

Opposition

Labour's opponents will do their best to dent that image of all-round good news..

Tomorrow, William Hague launches a Tory campaign based on the 'stealth taxes' introduced since 1997.

Having established the fact that the overall tax burden has now risen, posters will claim that there hasn't been a corresponding improvement in public services.

And the Liberal Democrats have drawn attention to what they say is a consistent pattern of deliberately under-estimating the size of Government revenues.

The party's economic spokesman, Matthew Taylor, told the World at One that Gordon Brown had intended all along to use these hidden resources to try to win over voters at the election.

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 ON THIS STORY
Lib Dem economic spokesman Matthew Taylor
In this parliament a lower proportion has been spent on public services than under the Tories
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