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EDITIONS
Monday, 7 May, 2001, 17:51 GMT 18:51 UK
Ministers kick-start poll campaign
Cabinet members led by Mo Mowlam in Downing Street
The Cabinet gathers for Monday's pre-election meeting
Labour has signalled the start of the general election campaign - promising to improve public services if it is returned to power.

Speaking after a special cabinet meeting in Downing Street, Health Secretary Alan Milburn and Education Secretary David Blunkett gave the first details of the party's election tactics.

Monday's poll preparations
Tony Blair holds a political cabinet in Downing Street
William Hague launches the Tory local government manifesto
Charles Kennedy takes the Lib Dem battlebus to Portsmouth
"At the heart of the manifesto will be reform of our public services and investment in our public services," Mr Milburn told reporters outside Number 10.

Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to see the Queen on Tuesday to ask her to dissolve Parliament for a poll on 7 June.

Warning against complacency, Mr Milburn said that Labour would fight a positive campaign, "as if it was on a knife-edge".

Asking voters for a new mandate, he said: "Four years is a very short period in time to actually make the investment count".

Alan Milburn and David Blunkett
Alan Milburn and David Blunkett: Fighting for every vote
The government was in "a very good position" from which to go to the polls, Mr Blunkett said.

Asked if Labour risked becoming complacent because it was so far ahead in the polls, he said: "We don't know the result."

And he added: "People will have to decide whether they want to make a difference or whether they want to go back to the cuts, retrenchment and misery of mass unemployment and crumbling schools and hospitals."

Tory party chairman Michael Ancram dismissed Labour's record on public services, saying crime and hospital waiting lists had increased.

'Abysmal record'

"Labour are truly the party of non-delivery - Alan Milburn and David Blunkett have as good as admitted it.

"They boast about 'building the foundations' - but if that's all they've done after four years it's a pretty abysmal record."

Mr Blair is believed to have told the cabinet meeting that the coming election would need "even more energy and focus than the 1997 campaign".

His is understood to have said: "In 1997 people were desperate to get rid of the Tories but this time around Labour will not have that advantage.

"This time we need to enthuse the electorate to convince them of the need to reform, for change and for investment in public services."

Buckingham Palace
Blair could go to the Palace on Tuesday

As the Conservatives awaited official confirmation of the general election date, they focused attention on England's local elections, scheduled for 7 June.

Unveiling their local government manifesto, Tory leader William Hague likened Labour's "abject failure" in local councils to its record nationally.

"In Whitehall or the town hall, the story is exactly the same - higher taxes on those who can least afford to pay, and poorer services for those who need them most," he said.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy showed off his campaign "battlebus" in Portsmouth after spending the weekend with his advisers discussing election strategy.

He said: "We are ready for the off now, and I'm looking forward to it."

'Honesty in taxation'

Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell said the public was disappointed with Labour but continued to distrust the Conservatives.

"We will be arguing for honesty in taxation to make it clear to people that you cannot have good health, education, pensions, transport - things of that kind - unless you are prepared to pay for them," he said.

The Lib Dems remained committed to personal freedom, said Mr Campbell.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mark Mardell
"There's no rest for politicians on the brink of a general election"
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"This is going to be a very different sort of campaign"
The BBC's Carole Walker
"Their big concern, apathy"

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