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The BBC's Philippa Thomas
"Only 15 minutes to seek and grant approval for Britain's next election"
 real 56k

The BBC's John Pienaar at Downing Street
"They have to persuade their voters to turn out and vote on polling day"
 real 56k

Conservative Party leader, William Hague
"Millions of people haven't made their minds up"
 real 56k

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy
"It can be done, we're starting from a much higher base this time"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 8 May, 2001, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
Blair announces June election
Tony Blair
Tony Blair returns to Number 10 from the Palace
The next UK general election will take place on 7 June, Prime Minister Tony Blair has confirmed.

Likely election timetable
Tuesday - Blair visits Queen, election announced
Wednesday - last prime minister's questions before polling day
Thursday or Friday - parliament dissolved
Thursday 7 June - polling day
"Earlier today I saw the Queen at Buckingham Palace to ask for a dissolution of Parliament so that there can be a general election on June 7," Mr Blair told an audience of schoolchildren

The venue at which Mr Blair announced the poll date, finally making official what all Westminster had expected for weeks, is a "beacon" school in Bermondsey, south London.

Labour chose the venue to highlight the party's central campaign theme of more spending on public services, particularly schools and hospitals.

The prime minister travelled to St Saviour's & St Olave's Church of England School with Education Secretary David Blunkett after an audience of the Queen at which Mr Blair formally requested a dissolution of parliament.

Tories 'ready to win'

Mr Blair's announcement heralds the official start of his campaign to win a second term for Labour.

Opinion polls have consistently suggested that Labour is a long way ahead of the opposition Conservatives.

Buckingham Palace: Tony Blair has asked the Queen to dissolve parliament
But Tory leader William Hague has insisted his party is "ready to win" despite its poor performance in the polls.

Mr Hague said it was "very arrogant for people to tell them [the voters] the results have already been decided".

He said he was "not going to be put off by opinion polls", adding that he was confident the Tories would win the election on their policies.

Liberal Democrat Charles Kennedy, meanwhile, expressed his relief that the long-awaited campaign was finally under way and declared his party was "raring to go".

A spokesman for the prime minister described Mr Blair's mood as "very focused".

Traditional themes

With Westminster poised since the early hours of Tuesday for Mr Blair's announcement, both Mr Hague and Mr Kennedy were out campaigning some hours before Mr Blair's visit to Buckingham Palace.

Mr Kennedy visited a London school with his home affairs spokesman, Simon Hughes, before making arrangements to launch his own party's election offensive.

The campaign themes of the three main parties are expected to follow traditional lines.

Reform of, and greater spending on, public services will be central to Mr Blair's fight for re-election, while the Tories are offering tax cuts and will highlight "stealth tax" rises imposed by the government over the past four years.

The Lib Dems will stick to their guns and, alone of the main political parties, once again argue the case for increased taxes to fund improved public services. Personal freedom will also be a key Lib Dem campaign theme.

Last days of parliament

After Tuesday's formalities, parliament is expected to be dissolved on Thursday or Friday.

William Hague
William Hague: Dismissed the opinion polls
This would allow Mr Blair to rally his backbench MPs at Wednesday's weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, before going on to a final despatch box clash with Mr Hague at prime minister's questions.

The party leaders are expected to then take to their campaign battle buses and take the fight out on the road.

In Glasgow, SNP leader John Swinney - whose party forms the official opposition in the devolved Scottish Parliament - said: "We are the party for Scotland and know the importance of sending a strong Scottish voice to Westminster where vital decisions will be made involving Scotland."

In Cardiff, Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones said his party would mount "the most concerted challenge ever" to Labour in Wales.

"The people of Wales are angered that Tony Blair and New Labour have turned their backs on them."

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See also:

08 May 01 | UK Politics
Now onto the issues
07 May 01 | UK Politics
Blair eyes second term
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