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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 March 2005, 12:15 GMT
Brown and Blair step up campaign
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

These were the words many Labour MPs have been waiting to hear from Gordon Brown for months.

Gordon Brown and Tony Blair
Blair and Brown united over budget
Standing alongside Tony Blair at an election poster launch, the chancellor repeated the main themes of his Budget and declared: "I am looking forward to going around the country putting that message to every constituency."

His remark was instantly interpreted as a sign that he was now taking centre stage in what most believe is an imminent campaign. (Something Mr Brown inadvertently encouraged earlier by talking about a possible election in weeks).

The Budget certainly seemed to represent a significant landmark in that campaign and has been widely interpreted as a carefully-targeted package of measures to appeal to key voters.

But, after some long hours poring over the chancellor's red book - which contains the fine detail of his package - the opposition parties have stepped up their attacks.

The Tories believe they have shown just how Mr Brown "gave with one hand and took away with the other" in his package.

Local finance

As one example, they point to stamp duty which the chancellor cut for homebuyers but increased on business, even managing to make a profit on the deal.

And they have stressed the increase in borrowing over and above the chancellor's original forecasts, insisting there will have to be tax rises under a third Labour administration.

Michael Howard
Howard has denied cuts claim
The Liberal Democrats have also criticised the package, notably the chancellor's one-off council tax reduction for pensioners, for failing to address long-term problems with the system of local finance.

But the aim of the Labour poster launch was to clearly map out one of the party's big election campaign themes - the choice between a Labour Party committed to investment in public services and a Tory party they claim is planning 35 billion cuts.

The opposition flatly deny that, insisting they will not cut a penny from the spending programme but make efficiency savings to finance their spending programme - something Labour is also planning on a smaller scale.

The other effect of the poster launch was probably to end weeks of speculation that Mr Brown had either been left out in the cold by the prime minister , or that he was sulking after being denied the central election role now being carried out by Alan Milburn.

There have also been concerns expressed in some Labour circles that Mr Milburn has failed to set the agenda but watched as the Tories set the pace on a series of issues including immigration, health and ant-terror laws.

Wonderful budget

But it was always likely to be the case that, after his period of pre-budget purdah, Mr Brown would be back.

And Tony Blair showed how central the economy, and therefore the chancellor, was bound to be in the election campaign when he introduced Mr Brown at the poster launch.

Gordon Brown and Alan Milburn
Brown and Milburn will be on election trail
He described the budget as "superb" and "brilliant", and Mr Brown as "the man who delivered such a wonderful budget".

So that was pretty clear. It would be wrong to suggest they hugged, even figuratively. Their relationship may still be too strained for that.

But this certainly looked like the beginning of Mr Brown's emergence into the campaign.

It remains unclear exactly how that will take shape and whether, for example, he will start hosting the almost-daily Labour press conferences or prefer to be out on the stump.

But he will undoubtedly want to be pushing his budget which he, and many of his own backbenchers, believe has boosted their chances of re-election.

Watch Gordon Brown deliver his Budget

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