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Last Updated: Monday, 10 May, 2004, 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK
Blair launches Euro vote campaign
Tony Blair
Tony Blair opened the Labour campaign in London
Labour has gone on the offensive about the record of Tory leader Michael Howard as Tony Blair launches his party's European election campaign.

Mr Blair rejected criticism that Labour was using US-style tactics in focusing their campaign on Mr Howard himself.

He said the advert, listing what it called Mr Howard's curriculum vitae, was a political rather than personal attack on the Conservative leader.

Mr Blair faced a large number of questions about alleged abuse in Iraq.

Entitled?

Asked if he thought the issue would dominate the campaign, he said he could not control the issues that came up.

Speaking in London Mr Blair said the key issue of the European election campaign was whether the UK would stay at the heart of the EU.

Labour was "perfectly entitled" to focus on Mr Howard's record, he said at the launch at Canary Wharf.

"It's not a personal attack, it certainly is a political attack," he said.

But Tory foreign affairs spokesman Michael Ancram said: "Tony Blair has said he wants a debate on Europe. Today he has launched a fraudulent debate that distorts our position and amounts to a personal attack on his political opponents."

Isolated?

Earlier Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt denied that Labour was indulging in the kind of negative campaign tactics seen in the US.

"Any election, including this one, is about a choice between political parties," she told the Today programme.

Labour's advert highlights Mr Howard's role in introducing poll tax, and the unemployment rate when he was an employment minister.

Ms Hewitt said: "This is not simply a question of voting on our record, it is also a question of voting on the basis of what the Conservatives are putting forward.

"When you look at Michael Howard and look at the policies he is putting forward now for public spending cuts and isolating Britain in Europe, of course we are entitled to draw attention to his record.

"This is not the kind of negative personal smear of the kind you get in US elections. It is simply a question of the facts."

Last week saw a series of campaign launches ahead of voting on 10 June in the local, European and London mayoral elections.

Green campaign

On Wednesday the Lib Dems also set out their stall for the European elections with Charles Kennedy bidding for the vote of people opposed to Britain's involvement in the Iraq war.

Two days earlier Mr Howard fired his party's starting gun, pledging the Conservatives to withdrawal from common fisheries policy.

This week, as well as Labour's launch, the Green Party will be getting their campaign underway ahead of the local, mayoral and European polls.

In her interview on Radio 4, Ms Hewitt claimed that the Tories had isolated Britain in the EU when they were in government.

She said the government was "winning the argument" over the proposed EU constitution.




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