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EDITIONS
 Saturday, 20 April, 2002, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
Labour campaign to woo middle class
Crowded hospital corridor
The government has promised to improve the NHS
A national campaign to build public support for the measures announced in the Budget is being led by Labour Party chairman Charles Clarke.

Special leaflets and postcards setting out the party's plans for the National Health Service and other key areas have been prepared for canvassing in the run-up to next month's local elections.

David Hinchcliffe, the Labour chairman of the Health Select Committee, said the government needs to go on a "charm offensive" to convince middle income voters they will benefit from an increase in National Insurance contributions.

The warning came after Prime Minister Tony Blair said he is "100% confident" the party can deliver a serious of tough pledges on the NHS as he defended the Budget tax rise.

Opposition leaders have continued to accuse the government of misleading the public over the decision to raise NI contributions to fund extra public spending.

Middle classes

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Clarke denied Labour had broken any promises by announcing a 1% rise in NI, to help fund a 40bn increase in NHS funding over five years.

There's a charm offensive needed to relate the change in the NHS to the interests of those people who may be concerned

David Hinchcliffe
But he admitted there was a real need to convince middle income voters the increase would benefit them.

He said: "The middle class like everybody else in the country has to choose, in paying for their health care, whether they do it through the rate of tax, which is what we have proposed in the National Insurance increase, or to do it through private insurance and charges, which is what I think the Conservatives are looking at most closely."

He said Labour was prepared to make its case and show it could make the NI increase work and challenged the Tories to set out its alternative strategy.

'Votes under threat'

Mr Hinchcliffe told the Today programme the issue was still to be sold to many voters.

He said: "I think it's important that the government gives some attention to the whole issue of how we ensure that middle England is on board in seeing the benefits in terms of new investment in the NHS.

"There's a charm offensive needed to relate the change in the NHS to the interests of those people who may be concerned."

Dr Roger Mortimore of pollsters MORI said the issue was vital to the continued success of Labour.

"By the next general election the government really does have to be able to convince people that things have improved or there's going to be a severe slippage in votes."

'100% confident'

On Friday the prime minister insisted the NI increase would lead to real improvements in the NHS.

He said: "If it doesn't work I am sure that people will judge me harshly on it but I intend it to work.

"Yes, I carry the can and I am happy to be judged on it. But I am 100% confident that we can win this debate because I am 100% confident that it is the right thing to do."

The Liberal Democrats support the NI rise - but the Conservatives say spending alone will not solve the problems of the health service and accuse ministers of ignoring real options for change.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith says the NI increase is a "tax on jobs".


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See also:

19 Apr 02 | Politics
19 Apr 02 | Politics
17 Apr 02 | Business
18 Apr 02 | Politics
18 Apr 02 | Politics
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