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Tuesday, 30 January, 2001, 18:52 GMT
Labour and Tories focus on election
The cabinet room at Number 10
The cabinet met minus civil servants
Cabinet ministers have been thrashing out New Labour's strategy for the next election - widely expected to be in May.

At a special political cabinet meeting, ministers tried to turn their attention away from the difficulties of the past week which saw the resignation of Peter Mandelson, and focused on what they believe are the key issues of a forthcoming campaign.

Meanwhile the Conservative Party has revealed it is to target a section of the population dubbed the 'Pebbledash People'.

Tory election planners believe they must recapture middle income voters who deserted them in 1997.

'Pebbledash People'

Typically Peppledash People are those who live in three-bed semi-detached houses in places like the West Midlands, voted Tory in 1992 but switched at the following election.

A team of 60 Tory party workers based at Conservative Central Office will target some of the 2.5 million middle-income voters that fall into the category.

Previous incarnations have carried names like Basildon Man and Worcester Woman and it was the failure of Labour to win Basildon in 1992 that indicated the outcome of other results around the county and led to five more years in opposition.

Election planners in the main political parties also learned on Tuesday how much money they will be able to spend on their campaigns.

Funding caps

Home Secretary Jack Straw announced that political parties contesting all 659 seats in a general election this spring will have a campaign budget cap of 14.8m.

He told the Commons that the limit - which had been long expected - would follow the enactment of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendum Act on 16 February.

Labour is determined to try and shake off the Hinduja affair that prompted the resignation of Peter Mandelson and the episode was granted only a "glancing reference" at the gathering of cabinet ministers at 10 Downing Street, according to Labour.

Instead, ministers devoted themselves to a two and a half hour brainstorming session, thrashing out the detail of how to get their message across to voters.

Stress on public services

The prime minister talked about the differences between Labour and the Conservatives and stressed his own party's commitment to investment in public services.

According to Labour, Mr Blair stressed to his ministers that the party must combat a Conservative "strategy of cynicism" which sought to avoid debating policy in order to ensure a low voter turn-out.

Leader of the Commons Margaret Beckett
Margaret Beckett after the cabinet meeting
Labour's approach will be to highlight the differences between itself and the Tories, promising to back better public services while accusing the opposition of trying to avoid discussion of what Mr Blair will paint as an agenda of "cuts, privatisation and boom and bust".

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott told Tuesday's meeting that addressing apathy at Labour's grassroots, as well as within the electorate generally, was vital for the party to win a second term.

Conservative determination to target a particular economic group in marginal seats indicates the belief that their approach to issues like crime and education will strike a chord.

Election spending limits
Election between February 16 and June - 14.82m limit
Election between June/July and February 2002 - 15.8m limit
19.77m if an election is called 12 months after February 16 - thereafter 20m limit
Mr Straw also announced that 16 February will be the date when new controls on party funding come into force.

From then, a registered political party will be required to submit for publication every quarter a list of donations it has received nationally of more than 5,000, and locally of more than 1,000.

In future all political parties will have to be registered centrally and declare where all but the smallest amounts of cash have come from.

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See also:

18 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Labour gears up for May poll
19 May 00 | UK Politics
Lib Dems hold election summit
24 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Labour's by-elections clean sweep
26 Jan 01 | Talking Politics
Poll monitor: Turnout fears remain
08 Jan 01 | UK Politics
All eyes on election day
18 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Tories on election alert
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