[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 April 2006, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Blair and Brown in show of unity
Gordon Brown and Tony Blair
Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have launched Labour's local election campaign in England which focuses on council tax, crime and education.

The prime minister and chancellor put on a united front after recent reports of differences, as they met groups of activists ahead of the 4 May poll.

There were no opportunities for journalists to ask questions of the politicians following their speeches.

More than 4,000 council seats will be decided in next month's elections.

'Strong economy'

The prime minister and chancellor arrived together at the launch and were joined by Ian McCartney, the party chairman, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell.

Mr Blair, his shirt sleeves rolled up, said the party would be hammering home three key messages to voters.

There is no time in the history of this country when we have had such a prolonged and sustained period of economic growth and thanks to our partnership that has happened under a Labour government
Gordon Brown

"The first is that the average council tax in the country is lower under Labour than under the Liberal Democrats or Conservative authorities," he said.

"We have got to keep it that way and we will.

"Second, we are the champions of the campaign against anti-social behaviour.

"Third, we are the party that believes in education for all, not simply a privileged few.

"But it all depends on a strong economy and, thanks to Gordon, we have got a strong economy."

Labour 'pride'

Mr Brown also emphasised the "partnership" between himself and Mr Blair.

"There is no time in the history of this country when we have had such a prolonged and sustained period of economic growth and I'm proud of that, thanks to our partnership that has happened under a Labour government," he said.

2006 ENGLISH ELECTIONS
32 London boroughs
36 Metropolitan authorities
88 District councils
4 Mayoral elections

"As Tony has said, we have been able to do more, partly because we have been able to put more money into councils to invest in education itself.

"As Tony has said, education is absolutely central and excellence in education is what this Labour Party is all about."

Later Mr Blair defended the decision not to take questions from the press, saying that "sometimes we want to run our own show" and get messages across to the party faithful on issues like council tax.

Asked about a date for his retirement, he told the BBC: "I'm getting on with the job. I understand why you want to talk about something else, but I don't."

New rivals

Despite the desire to focus on local issues, it is inevitable that the elections will be seen as a test of Labour's popularity after recent negative publicity over "cash for peerages" claims and continued speculation about the pair's differences.

There have also been well-documented differences between Mr Blair and Mr Brown over Lord Turner's proposals for pensions.

It would be funny if it wasn't so serious - they are the two most important people in the government who are fighting with each other
David Cameron

Mr Brown said on Tuesday he and the prime minister had reached a "90 to 95%" consensus on pensions.

Mr Blair has dismissed talks of a rift, saying the media reports of a split were like newspaper April Fool stories.

The party is also up against David Cameron's Conservatives and Sir Menzies Campbell's Liberal Democrats.

'Judgement' time

Both hope that their new leaders will help them build support.

Mr Cameron urged Mr Blair and Mr Brown to "kiss and make up" and concentrate on the task of running the government.

"It would be funny if it wasn't so serious. They are the two most important people in the government who are fighting with each other at a time when we have deficits in the health service, people losing their jobs and serious decisions about pensions to be made," he said.

And shadow local government Caroline Spelman said it was not true for Mr Blair to say Labour's council tax bills were lower.

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrats' party president, said voters will judge Labour for their record on an "unfair" council tax, an "exaggerated threat" of crime and local issues.

Contests will take place in 20 English unitary authorities, 32 London boroughs, 36 metropolitan districts and 88 English shire districts.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch key moments from Labour's election launch



RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific