The Full Election Story: 8 April

  • Row over National Insurance plans continues
  • Labour attack Conservatives' £6bn "fantasy" savings plan
  • Lib Dems say Tory move to cancel planned NI rise would require a VAT "bombshell"
  • David Cameron outlines proposals for national teenage volunteer scheme and receives backing from veteran actor Michael Caine
  • Plaid Cymru launch campaign, demanding a fair deal for Wales

By Justin Parkinson, Andy McFarlane, Will Smale and Victoria King

Stream 3

COMING UP: Daily Politics Show 1200BST

2255James Caan, entrepreneur and star of the BBC's Dragons' Den, doesn't seem to be backing the Tories as we'd previously thought he was. He says Labour's National Insurance rise would only add £15 to the cost of employing someone, and that wouldn't realistically be enough to put him off filling a vacancy that needed filling.

2250Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne says of Labour's plans for spending cuts: "They're big, they're do-able, but they're not damaging." He won't be drawn though on a commitment on VAT, saying we'll just have to wait until the manifesto next week. You tease, Mr Byrne...

2245BBC Newsnight's economics editor Paul Mason says the financial markets are beginning to get impatient about the cuts and spending row. He says they fear a sort of stalemate, especially in the event of a hung Parliament. He also points out that it suits politicians to squabble about the nitty gritty of specific cuts because it distracts from the bigger issue of just how big a financial hole the country is in.

2228The Daily Mail attacks Labour tomorrow with the headline, "Victim of a broken promise". The paper says a 37-year-old mother, who is dying from cancer, has been forced to sell her home "to buy the drugs Labour pledged it would fund".

2223Shadow universities and skills secretary David Willetts tells BBC Radio 4's World Tonight that he doesn't "recognise" the figure of 40,000 public sector job losses that the Financial Times claims could be looming under a Tory government. He says: "It's not our policy to have compulsory redundancies," but instead the Tories would have a "recruitment freeze" and not fill posts that become vacant.

2203No senior manager in the public sector will be able to earn more than 20 times more than the lowest paid person in their organisation under Conservative plans revealed in tomorrow's Guardian. The Tory leader reveals the policy himself in an article for the paper, which has then calculated that it would see more than 200 executives getting a salary cut.

2157Up to 40,000 public sector jobs could go under Conservative cuts plans, the Financial Times claims. The paper says Mr Cameron's adviser, Sir Peter Gershon, has revealed that he has told the Tory leader to cut £2bn from the public payroll in the first year of office if he is victorious on 6 May.

2147The first of tomorrow's newspaper front pages has just popped into my inbox. The Independent headline is: "Labour begs for Lib Dem votes". Transport Secretary Lord Adonis has written a piece in the paper saying there are so few differences between the two parties that Lib Dem supporters should just vote tactically and keep Labour in Downing Street.

2141Gordon Brown has reiterated that Labour would not increase Capital Gains Tax as a means of bringing down the budget deficit over a projected four year period, the BBC's Iain Watson says. Speaking to a predominantly Labour-supporting meeting of business figures in London tonight, Mr Brown said: "We've had to make a decision - no we will not raise Capital Gains Tax. It is 18% - it was 40% when we came into power. We've made adjustments, but it's still one of the lowest in the developed world. Yes, we will keep the corporation tax reductions, which have gone down from 33 to 28% during the Labour government." There are likely to be clear commitments on tax next week in Labour's manifesto.
Iain Watson

2134arivindabraham tweets: I think Chris Huhne is doing pretty well on the BBC right now.
Read Arivindabraham's tweets
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2133GarethJAnderson tweets: BBC News and Jon Sopel just nailed Lib Dem Chris Huhne on their VAT lie. He then refused to rule out raising it himself. Typical Lib Dem lies
Read GarethJAnderson's tweets
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2129The BBC's Peter Henley is at a greyhound racing track in Hove, Sussex. He says, with a wry smile, that two appropriately named dogs - Gordon's Revival and Blue Girl - have both performed very poorly on the track tonight.

2125Mr Huhne says he doesn't agree with Gordon Brown that business leaders who back the Conservatives have been "deceived". But he says he doesn't think they've done enough to "audit" the proposal to find out the whether it's "true and fair".

2117Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne is asked about his party's claim to know that the Conservatives would introduce a big VAT hike if they took power. He denies the claim is just "conjecture", and says he has "indications from leading Conservatives" like Ken Clarke that such a rise in inevitable. Mr Huhne does, however, say that he can't rule out a rise in VAT if the Lib Dems win either.

2109Steve Richards, from The Independent, tells the BBC's Campaign Show that on Thursday Labour landed a few decent blows in the National Insurance row. He says the Tory plan to scrap the NI rise is "superficial politics" and they "don't deserve to be getting away with it". But former Sun political editor George Pascoe-Watson says you can't underestimate the impact on voters of real-life businessmen, heads of shops they visit every day, criticising the government.

2103Just a snippet of news into us from the campaign frontline. The Labour MP for Salford - Hazel Blears - has been heckled over her expenses record at a public meeting in the city. She defended herself saying that contrary to newspaper reports she had never flipped her home. But there were loud groans and coughs after she described herself as "an honest and straightforward politician".

2058We're going to be dipping into the BBC News Channel's Campaign Show from 2100BST. Facing a grilling tonight is Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne.

2040In Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party set out their electoral stall today and suggested they could have a key role to play in the event of a hung Parliament. Leader Peter Robinson said he wanted to see a better future for children in Northern Ireland - and dismissed suggestions that recent revelations about his private life could cast a shadow over the DUP's campaign. Mr Robinson said of his own decision to stand again: "I'm doing it for one reason and one reason only - to move Northern Ireland forward."

2028 Curtis in London writes: According the Office for National Statistics "in the year to January pay growth (including bonuses) in the private sector stood at 0.0% compared with 3.8% in the public sector. Excluding bonus payments, growth in the private sector stood at 0.4% compared with 4.0% in the public sector". A simple "re-alignment" of public sector wages to what's happened in the private sector (and real economy) would quickly deliver drastic "efficiency" savings. I can't work out why this is not the front line of the Tories' election campaign...
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2018Apparently the lights went out for about 10 seconds during Mr Brown's question and answer session. Cue digs about people being "in the dark" about politics. During the brief blackout Mr Brown joked that the lights "almost went out" two years ago during the banking crisis.

2010Gordon Brown's event has now ended too - it was dubbed a sort of "town hall meeting".

1952Mr Cameron has wrapped up in Devon but Labour's event continues. Alistair Darling, sitting among the audience, is insisting "we really must stick to the course we've set" on the economy.

1943An internet company worker tells Mr Brown he may relocate to Switzerland because his tax rate is "jumping through the roof". Mr Brown replies that he does not want to raise tax but that after a "one-off shock" in the form of the financial crisis, the country must find a way of repaying the "necessary" deficit and that the "broadest shoulders" must bear their share.

1934Mr Brown wraps up his speech on a positive note by talking about optimism and a "great future for our country". Now it's the prime minister's turn to face an audience grilling.

1932In answer to a tricky question about the Conservatives' oft-criticised positioning in Europe, Mr Cameron avoids talking about allegations that some of the party's new allies once had extremist links. Instead, he says he wants to take back some powers from Europe and keep the pound but recognises that co-operation is needed on many issues.

1926Mr Cameron promises that "any minister in my cabinet who wants to introduce a regulation has to scrap one first," to the amusement of his audience. He was answering a question about bureaucracy affecting small businesses.

1922Back in Devon, Mr Cameron is talking about a proper border police force to handle immigration and restore public confidence in the system.
David Cameron

1919Mr Brown is talking about the lessons he learned from the financial crisis. He says a "fair and responsible regime" to reward bank executives for responsible behaviour is required but that a global agreement is needed on how to tax the financial system.
Gordon Brown

1912A huge projection of Tony Blair's face just appeared behind Gordon Brown as he recounted the nationalisation of Northern Rock, to much amusement in the audience.

1909"Cabinet ministers including Alistair Darling and Peter Mandelson are fanning out among the audience. Labour say it's a business and economy audience - I have so far talked to a solicitor a social entrepreneur, a member of an industrial tribunal and a student," says the BBC's Iain Watson.
Iain Watson

1905Back in central London, the prime minister is launching his "Gordon Brown on the Road" event.

1904A question about the future of Plymouth's naval dockyard has Mr Cameron fondly recalling a trip for a "Thursday war" training exercise on a Royal Navy frigate. He says the navy would have a "strong future" under the Conservatives but warns that a defence review is essential.

1853Mr Cameron says he has to be frank and that top-up fees and tuition fees for students "have to stay" if we are to have top-class universities.
David Cameron

1850In response to a question, Mr Cameron insists he is not "lukewarm" on grammar schools and says he is happy for them to expand.

1847David Cameron is talking at a question and answer session in Whitleigh, Devon. Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove warmed up the crowd again. Did he get the taste after being on Sir Michael Caine's undercard?

1835Remember the Labour poster depicting David Cameron as Ashes to Ashes' cop Gene Hunt? Well, it had already backfired on Labour because the Tories loved it and put out their own version instead. But now it turns out that production company Kudos, which makes the show, is unhappy. It says it owns the copyright to the image, and as a politically "non-partisan" company, has written to both parties to ask them to stop using it.

1829The Conservatives now have a Dragon on their side. James Caan, entrepreneur and one of the stars of the BBC's Dragons' Den, has joined the list of business types backing the Tory plan to block any rise in National Insurance. Mr Caan said an increase would cost "thousands of jobs" and claimed Labour's recent Budget had been based on "exaggerated" growth figures.

1814Baroness Prosser, the former Treasurer of the Labour Party, has used BBC Radio 4's PM to criticise senior figures in her own party for saying business leaders were being "deceived" by the Tories over National Insurance. "I'm not sure that that was the most sensible thing to say," she said, later adding: "It's been a difficult week for Labour, let me put it like that."

1809A leftfield take on political popularity now. Some Nottingham University research has been picked up by the London Evening Standard's Paul Waugh. The study, which apparently is otherwise quite serious, asked female voters which leaders they would "snog, marry or avoid". 89% said they'd avoid Gordon Brown, 66% would avoid David Cameron and 63% would avoid Nick Clegg. Figures for "snog" and "marry" aren't yet available...

1759Green Party leader Caroline Lucas has welcomed the news that the US and Russian presidents have signed a deal reducing their nuclear arsenals. Nuclear disarmament by the UK is a key Green policy. "I hope very much that Gordon Brown will take a leaf from Obama's book and say that we are not going to go ahead and renew Trident," she adds.

1753News just in... Parliament has been officially prorogued - shut down, to you and me. That means that any legislation not passed now will not go through this parliament. Politicians are filing out of the Commons saying goodbye to Speaker John Bercow - he looks like a kindly headmaster, seeing off his students for the holidays.

1745Foreign Secretary David Miliband says the newly completed Labour manifesto will help turn the election in the party's favour. "As the election gets closer, the Labour answers are getting clearer and sharper and the Tories are going to become fuzzier and weaker," he says.

1732Another snippet from our interactive reporter Anna Adams. She says the UK Independence Party are getting some stick on Twitter for spelling "independent" wrong in some of their local campaign literature. UKIP, for their part, say the Lib Dems have been pinching their policies on tax, rail and elected county health boards.

1726 John Campbell writes: Very sad day when the electorate know far more about the private life of political leaders and less and less about which public services are going to be cut, which specific tax increases they can anticipate.
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1722Could we have a political spat on our hands? Speaking in Glasgow, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said Scottish National Party chief Alex Salmond was "a two-bit player in this election and he knows it despite all his bluster". The SNP have hit back saying: "This is a disrespectful remark about Scotland's First Minister, especially from someone polls show most Scots would struggle to recognise." Oo-er!

1716In case you're planning your polling day outfit already, the Met Office have released their first forecast for the week of 6 May. "The areas most likely to see unsettled conditions with occasional rain will probably be northern, north-western and eastern parts of the UK, with the driest weather most likely in western and southern parts. There should be good spells of sunshine, particularly in the south and west, but with clear skies there is a risk of overnight fog and frost for some parts. It should feel warm in the sunshine, with light winds for a good part of the period."

1711In other news, we've just had word from Clarence House that the Duchess of Cornwall has broken her leg while hill-walking in Scotland. I wonder which party leader will be the first to wish her well...

1707And he's out. Gordon Brown has left the building - the one where the finishing touches have been put to Labour's manifesto. We'll have to wait until next week to see the fruits of their Labour.

1704Waiting for Gordon Brown to emerge from a two-hour meeting of Labour's ruling National Executive Committee. Senior members of the cabinet have already left and Welsh Secretary Peter Hain says they have agreed a "radical manifesto", the BBC's Iain Watson reports.
Iain Watson

1658The BBC's interactive reporter Anna Adams says a "Where's Georgie?" campaign is gathering pace on the internet. She says people are pondering the whereabouts of shadow chancellor George Osborne, suggesting that he hasn't been seen much since the election was called. Apparently, he was last seen at Luton Airport on Tuesday - any further sightings let us know...

1652Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is speaking in Bristol. In a relaxed, casual address, bathed in sunshine, he says the country has been let down by 13 years of Labour and 65 years of the two main parties, "who have played with government as though it was a game of pass the parcel".

1648Michael Conaghan asks: "Why is there no left-leaning party in Northern Ireland?" Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, he says that "the normalisation of life here means there could be room for a new brand of politics", but at the moment "there is no democratic socialist party that stands as a unifying force that could unite both communities under a secular, progressive banner".

1639The question "Is Michael Caine a non-dom" has been circulating on Twitter and was posted to the BBCElection Twitter feed after the actor backed the Tories. A Conservative spokesman told the BBC that since Sir Michael Caine is neither a party donor nor a Conservative Party member, his tax status is his own business. Read BBCElection's tweets
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1630"Despite the history of betrayals and decapitations which haunt Downing St, Messrs Brown, Cameron and Clegg are ready to sacrifice privacy and embrace a trial by fire in the hottest zone of the political inferno." That's the assessment of David Williamson, in the Western Mail, Wales' main daily paper. "If they can show how new opportunities for work, learning and volunteering could cross the cracks in this country and inject true meaning into national purpose then they might even be worthy of a vote."

1625Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg arrives at the Bristol Science Museum for a campaign event. Walking in, he comments that it's a good place for school children in the holidays, adding with a laugh: "My kids have been packed off to the in-laws."

1621 The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg tweets: 5 ministerial cars parked up outside Church House where Labour are finalising its manifesto - Balls + DMiliband tweeting from in there! Read Laura Kuenssberg's tweets
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1615In 24 hours, the hashtag #debill (Digital Economy bill) appeared 14,400 times on Twitter, as compared with 1,470 tweets using the election hashtag #ge2010 (General Election 2010). So, does that mean the mainstream media, with its concentration on campaign news, is ignoring the really big story? Or is this a particularly well-focussed campaign by a relatively small group of activists? Read Rory Cellan-Jones's blog
Rory Cellan-Jones

1611Nick Clegg's wife Miriam has spoken briefly to the BBC - she's said previously that she won't be as heavily involved in the election effort as Mrs Brown or Mrs Cameron. "I consider that we don't have a role as such," she said. "We are just married to the politicians, they are the ones that have the role." She added: "Everybody will want to help, I will want to help, but without giving up my life."

1605David Cameron has said it's unlikely he'd take paternity leave if he became prime minister. His wife Samantha is due to give birth in September, but Mr Cameron said it would be "difficult" to take time off. "I'll be as helpful as I can be, but I think we'll have to make that one up as we go along."

1547The BBC thinks this is a coup for Cameron. I'm not so sure. Is Caine an expert in national insurance or public spending? Andy Coulson, Cameron's communications chief, used to run the showbiz column on the Sun. I think we can guess who was behind this initiative.
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1552The BBCs Alan Soady has spent some time with MPs standing down at this election as they clear they desks and empty their filing cabinets. Retting Labour MP Martin Salter says the process "brought back my time as a dustman". But he says he's not sad to be leaving as the new regime will make life very difficult for MPs and cut back the resources they have to work with. "I worry that this place will become either a Parliament of toffs or a Parliament of nerds and if you combine the two you get turds, don't you."

1545We hear that Business Secretary Lord Mandelson has just left the manifesto meeting - on the way out, he told reporters everything was "coming along nicely".

1541Labour's National Executive Committee is meeting now, at Church House in central London, to agree the final details of the party's manifesto. At least five government ministers are there, including David Miliband and Ed Balls. Gordon Brown is expected to attend the meeting at some point.

1535David Cameron is chatting with school children on a campaign visit to Norwich. The children are carrying out a number of outdoor adventure challenges. The BBC's Chris Buckler says such activities are planned under the Tories' proposed "national citizen service" scheme.

1525Endura wrote: I find it remarkable that all parties continue to talk about efficiency savings when things go wrong. We all seem to miss the fact that it is our hard-earned money we entrust to politicians, and we should demand that they spend it wisely. I run a small business and thought it was abundantly clear that the economy was overheating for some time, and yet nobody within government seemed to notice?
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1525Plans to introduce compulsory sex education in all schools are to fail to make it into law. As the "wash-up" continues to rush bills through Parliament, Labour and the Tories could not agree over how old a child had to be for a parent to be allowed to withdraw them from sex education.

1510Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill accuses Labour and the Conservatives of planning to reduce funding for Scotland, whoever wins the general election. "Both Labour and the Tories - the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of London politics - are threatening massive cuts to the Scottish budget," he says.

1500 Is Labour losing a digital battle - the contest to get its message promoted alongside Google search results? A Labour spokesman told me that the Tories' strategy is to "carpet bomb" Google and hope to pick up some relevant traffic. Labour, he said, had less to spend, so had to work harder to to make its ads are really relevant to the audience. Read Rory Cellan-Jones's blog
Rory Cellan-Jones

1452Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg says the country is fed up with "the red team and the blue team" making "the same old mistakes over and over again".

1442 Petrol at £1.20 a litre? Government is only interested in making us pay through the nose, rather than helping the country by dropping fuel duty. Read Geraint White's tweets
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1442"Nick Clegg is visiting a factory in Eastleigh after attacking Tory tax cutting plans. But I just had an interesting chat with the business director here about National Insurance. 'Anything that adds costs is a negative,' he tells me." BBC political correspondent Mike Sergeant
Mike Sergeant

1437Ynys Mon Labour MP Albert Owen accuses Plaid Cymru of being too "embarrassed" to talk about their aim for Welsh independence. "Have they given up on their over-arching aim of a costly separation from the UK, or are they simply embarrassed to talk about it?" he says.

1429Schools Secretary Ed Balls says the Conservatives can't afford their proposed "national citizen service" scheme for 16-year-olds. "Another glitzy David Cameron launch can't hide the fact that this is yet another spending commitment from the Tories with the flakiest of funding solutions," he says.

1420Cancer charities have welcomed the news that legislation banning under-18s from tanning salons is to become law, having cleared the Lords. "This is a monumental achievement and legislation will go a long way to curb the alarming numbers of teenagers that use sunbeds," said Aisling Burnand, executive director of policy and public affairs at Cancer Research UK.

1410The Engineering Employers' Federation has refused to back the Tories in the row over National Insurance - but its chief economist, Lee Hopley, said this did not mean the organisation thought Labour was right.

1358Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy accuses the Tories of planning to cut benefits for families with children. He says David Cameron is planning to "raid family kitties up and down the country".

1351Shadow foreign secretary William Hague tells Conservative supporters in Scotland that the party has no plans to raise VAT, and tells the Liberal Democrats to "pipe down" about the issue.

1347Former No 10 advisor Matthew Taylor tells BBC Radio 4's The World At One that Labour are "losing the argument" over the credibility of business leaders' views on National Insurance.

1338As the "wash-up" continues to rush bills through Parliament, it appears legislation banning under-18s from tanning salons is to become law having cleared the Lords.

1333"Sir Michael Caine has told me he is backing the Conservatives to win the next election," reports the BBC's Carole Walker. "He said it was 'their turn'. He said he'd voted for Margaret Thatcher, then for Tony Blair and he said now he's backing David Cameron to be prime minister."
Carole Walker

1327Google attacks the Digital Economy Bill website-blocking clause saying there is "high risk that legal content gets mistakenly blocked" - Read the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones's tweets
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1315I understand Labour has floated the idea of raising the concept of a new European-wide "peace corp" to tap into young people's enthusiasm for volunteering during their gap year. It was suggested by David Miliband, the foreign secretary, in a recent cabinet meeting - though my source told me it didn't get much support from cabinet colleagues. So, is Cameron onto a good thing here? Has Labour missed a trick?
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1313Sir Michael Caine wasn't the only one to fluff his lines today. David Cameron has admitted to a "gaffe" by forgetting the name of one of his party's target seats in Gloucestershire.

1309Bad news for the election battle bus drivers. Petrol prices are officially at an all-time average high of 120p per litre, according to the RAC.

1307 Alan Dangerfield, Windsor, writes: The Liberals at last are talking common sense. Expanding the rail network would be the best thing ever for the UK, it would create thousands of purposeful jobs.
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1301Samantha Cameron has attracted a lot of press attention at the Caring for Life farm for vulnerable adults, near Leeds. She has examined a hand-crafted walking stick and spoken to one lady about flower arranging which, Mrs Cameron confessed, "is not one of her talents".

1255The BBC's James Cook says: "Gordon and Sarah Brown are heckled as they leave a health centre in east London. A man shouts 'can you tell your husband to tell the truth in future'. The heckler... is not particularly clear about his complaint. He appears to be unhappy that Mr Brown didn't call an election shortly after taking office."

1245The BBC's Jane Hill, in Bow, east London, says: "Talking to lots of members of staff about the PM's visit here. Many are quite excited to have him here... and in particular to see his wife. 'Very friendly', said several women. Sarah Brown is asked endlessly whether she's now her husband's secret weapon. She never responds."

1238You can see Sir Michael Caine explain why he is supporting the Conservatives' National Citizen Service in our video.

1228David Cameron and Sir Michael Caine are chatting to youngsters about voluntary work they have undertaken. The actor is sitting next to a boy with an enormous and very impressive ginger "afro" hairstyle.

1221The BBC's Dominic Hurst says: "Samantha Cameron today visited Caring For Life, a charity on a farm near Leeds helping vulnerable adults. She spent about an hour looking at stables, a plant nursery and other facilities. 'I hope it highlights the amazing things charities like this do for some of the most vulnerable in society who tend to fall through the net', she said."

1216 Martin Kettle in the Guardian says the divide between Labour and the Conservatives is harping back to the days of Gene Hunt: "This serves two purposes for the Tories: first by framing the contest as a Tory tax cutting versus Labour higher spending clash and, second, by casting Labour as unfriendly to business... Gordon Brown doesn't appear unduly fussed; it's as if he thinks this rather old-fashioned 1980s divide between the two parties will eventually play Labour's way in these very different times." Read the round-up of the commentators' views on See Also

1209This morning's argument from Labour is simple. The Conservatives cannot make greater efficiency savings than those the government has identified. To attempt to do so would endanger frontline services. Very well. But, erm, haven't I heard that argument somewhere before?
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1207The BBC's Matthew Sydney says Mr and Mrs Brown have been meeting the people who tend a community garden in Bow, east London. "They seem genuinely flattered the Prime Minister has come to visit them. Mr Brown seems more relaxed than I've seen him so far in this campaign," he says.

1204Not an election issue per se, but the Bank of England has announced it is keeping interest rates at 0.5%.

1201Gordon Brown is wearing his regulation power purple tie again - a colour seen often on members of the cabinet during the economic downturn - but he's brightening it up with a jaunty white spot pattern. Nick Clegg gets the tie-of-the-day award in the eyes of the BBC's Claire Williams - shocking lime green which is both spring-like and provides that splash of bright colour which has proven highly popular with the 2010 fashion pack.

1155An update for tiewatch fans. David Cameron was wearing a silky sky blue number. Sir Michael Caine appeared with shirt open at the neck. He may be 76 but he still knows how to look cool, as far as I'm concerned.

1150Gordon and Sarah Brown have arrived at a health and community centre in Bow, east London. Mrs Brown has repeatedly been asked if she thinks she can win the election for her husband - she's resisting the temptation to answer.

1146 Having the star of Alfie and Get Carter at your launch is, well, quite cool. It also opens the way for all sorts of Caine-based gags. Personally, I'm wondering if David Cameron will be getting tips on lines to use on Gordon Brown during the debates. "Listen prime minister, you're a big man but you're out of shape. For me it's a full-time job. Now behave."
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1144For those interested in how the National Insurance issue is playing among the public, we have been told that a Populus poll in the Times - sampled on Tuesday and Wednesday - found 43% agreeing with the Conservative proposal to scrap the planned rise, with 45% against it.

1140David Cameron has wrapped up his press conference. The lingering journalists are chattering excitedly. But will anyone be brave enough to ask Sir Michael Caine for his autograph?

1137Mr Cameron says full costings of the citizen service will be published later. He says he will cut "failing" government schemes to fund the pilots.

1133Senior civil servants met this morning to discuss the Conservatives' plans to cut £6bn of spending through efficiency savings in the coming financial year, the BBC understands.

1131Spelling out his credentials as a "public-spirited person", Mr Cameron says he joined the cadet force as a youngster and also did some social volunteering by helping the elderly.

1129 Roy in London writes: There are only a handful of locations with marginal seats for whose benefit the whole thing is playing out. The rest of us are just spectators with no say in the matter, and for us this will become tiresome very rapidly.
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1127Labour used to call itself the party of business, Mr Cameron says. But now it has "fallen out" with the very business leaders the country needs to revitalise the economy, he adds.

1125Mr Cameron says one of the reasons for calling the volunteering scheme National Citizen Service is that the original military service brought people from across the UK together. The Conservative scheme would do the same, he says.

1121Michael Caine supporting the Conservatives. Quite a coup because he's very cool as I type this in 1972 - tweets Graeme Swanson. Read Graeme Swanson's tweets
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1119The veteran actor did make a small slip by saying this "government" was doing a great thing by setting up the citizen service. Getting a bit ahead of himself, perhaps?

1118Sir Michael says he was in a gang when growing up in London's Elephant and Castle district not because he wanted to beat people up but because he wanted to stop himself from being beaten up. He says he is supporting the Tories to help young people in similar circumstances.

1115Sir Michael Caine is on stage and says his first thought was "oh, my God they are bringing back national service". He says that was a bad thing but that it really needs something to replace it.

1113Mr Cameron says voluntary work like that proposed in the Tories' citizen service idea has already been proven to work. We want to put "fire in bellies, steel in backbones and joy in souls," he adds.

1111Mr Cameron says social responsibility and not state control must be the leading force for progress in Britain. He promises to take power from the state and give it to families, with national citizen service a key factor in this.

1109David Cameron says youngsters need more to aspire to. "The closest thing to a rite of passage is getting drunk on your 18th birthday," he says.
David Cameron

1107Not everyone in the Conservative Party is getting to rub shoulders with celebrities today. Shadow foreign secretary William Hague is far away from Sir Michael Caine in Scotland - but he is getting to fly around the country in a helicopter.

1101Michael Gove and Baroness Warsi, who is in charge of the Conservatives' community cohesion and social action agenda, are warming up the crowd with a taster of the party's voluntary "national citizen service" for 16-year-olds.

1056There's a Michael on stage but it's shadow schools secretary Mr Gove, not Caine. He's talking with Baroness Warsi about the role of young people in society.

1051Sir Michael Caine last year threatened to move to the US in response to Labour's decision to introduce a new 50p top rate of income tax, while "3.5million layabouts" were receiving benefits. More of the same today?

1048 Mixed views are coming in from a debate on the BBC website as to whether the National Insurance increase would harm jobs. Jim refers to "Labour's appalling record on the economy" and TheWalrus999 says that it's "the small businesses that will suffer". But PeaEye disagrees, maintaining that "business did very well in the boom times, they should certainly be joining in the effort to clear the deficit". Finally Greade asks for more transparency: "Cameron says he will not implement this but the money has to come from somewhere, he is not willing to say where".
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1044The image of Mr Cameron on stage alongside one of Britain's best-loved film stars will delight the Tory legions, says the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg.
Laura Kuenssberg

1040Not a lot of people know this but... Sir Michael Caine has arrived at the Conservative press conference alongside David Cameron.

1035Conservative leader David Cameron is due to speak shortly at Millbank in central London. Expect him to pour more scorn on Labour's claim that business figures have been "deceived" by the Tories' intent to scrap the planned National Insurance rise.

1029Wales is not being fairly funded under the current constitutional arrangement, Plaid's leader says.

1026Plaid will be looking for a fair deal for Wales in the event of a hung Parliament, Mr Wyn Jones says.

1023On to Plaid Cymru's campaign launch. Leader Ieuan Wyn Jones says his party is the only one which will put Wales first.

1020Gordon Brown describes wife Sarah as the "love of my life" and says they like going round the country together campaigning. To laughter, Lord Mandelson concludes the Labour press conference with the rather arch comment "Isn't that nice".

1017The government is "pro-business and pro-enterprise", Gordon Brown says. What business wants most of all is a secure recovery, he adds. Lord Mandelson says Marks and Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose, who has criticised Labour's proposed increase in National Insurance, is a "friend". He adds that he is "looking forward to teasing" the retail magnate about his comments.

1011The Labour press conference continues, with the chancellor saying that "sometimes business will be with you, sometimes they won't". Alistair Darling argues that politicians should be "grown up about that".

1008The Conservatives' battlebus has been seen on the streets of Westminster. Mainly painted sky blue, the three-axle vehicle bears the campaign slogan "Vote for Change".

1004Lord Mandelson says he has no need to "wave around" or "burnish" his pro-business credentials, amid the row over National Insurance.

1002Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg says his party's tax policies have been costed "in full". He adds: "We can tell you, penny for penny, pound for pound, who pays for them."
Nick Clegg

0959Back at the Labour press conference, the chancellor says the Tories' spending plans are "plain daft".

0957Conservative leader David Cameron is due to give his own press conference at 1030 BST, in which he will respond to the bombardment by Labour over his economic credentials. But could he have upset some of the good people of the East Midlands earlier today? In a quickfire question-and-answer session on BBC Radio Derby, the Tory leader was asked whether he preferred that city or Nottingham. Mr Cameron opted for the latter. Whoops. Incidentally, in a wide-ranging discussion, he said he preferred Jordan to Peter Andre.
David Cameron

0949Mr Brown says he "really "enjoys having his wife Sarah with him on the election trail.

0945Mr Brown says that, every day of the campaign, Labour will "expose what the Conservatives are doing".

0944Gordon Brown says that, while the UK can be "encouraged" by economic improvements, it is "not out of the woods yet".
Gordon Brown

0942The chancellor says it costs money to cancel IT projects, part of the Conservatives plans. David Cameron and shadow chancellor George Osborne are guilty of "reckless opportunism", he adds.

0939Mr Darling says the Tories are asking voters to believe they can almost double the government's planned efficiency savings in a year.

0938Business Secretary Lord Mandelson opens Labour's press conference. He rubbishes the Conservatives' claims on efficiency savings. Chancellor Alistair Darling does the same.

0934Henry Macrory, head of the Conservative press office, says a photograph of the cabinet in the Daily Telegraph reminds him of the famous cover of the Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album by the Beatles. What can this mean? Is he alluding to the lyric "They've been going in and out of style, but they always seem to raise a smile"?

0925Labour's election co-ordinator Douglas Alexander tweets to say that "securing the recovery is now the central battleground of opening days" of the campaign. Expect Mr Brown to focus on this at his press conference.

0915Gordon Brown is preparing to give his first big press conference of the election campaign, at Labour's headquarters in central London. It should begin at about 0930 BST.

0912Some more economic news. A total of 397,383 new cars were sold in March, up 26.6% on the same month last year, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Meanwhile, the Bank of England is expected to keep interest rates on hold, when it makes its monthly announcement at 1200 BST.

0907The BBC's Fiona Trott, in Glasgow, says a Lib Dem poster being launched later today will attack the Tories over taxation policy. It will proclaim: "Tory VAT bombshell: you'd pay £389 more a year in VAT under the Conservatives."

0903House prices rose by 1.1% during March, according to the Halifax.

0856Former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell says his party is not preparing for a hung Parliament. There will be "no backroom deals" in the run-up to the election, he tells the BBC.

0846The prime minister's claim that he attaches "no blame" to 68 business leaders who have come out in support of the Tories over National Income policy represents a "change of tone", BBC deputy political editor James Landale says. Mr Brown previously said he felt they had been "deceived".
James Landale

0837David Cameron's plan for a national teenage youth volunteer service plays to parts of the electorate who think that "back in the day", the UK's youth was more on the "straight and narrow", the BBC's Ben Wright says.
Ben Wright

0833Asked if he will cope if he loses the election, Mr Brown says: "Of course." He will be standing to be an MP for the next five years, whatever happens, he adds.

0830There are 2.5 million more people in work than in 1997, Mr Brown says.

0828It is not possible to impose the savings that the Conservatives are promising, Mr Brown says. The opposition's policies are based on a "myth", he adds.

0826Mr Brown says he attaches "no blame" to business leaders over their support for Conservative plans not to impose increase in National Insurance contributions. He says they "haven't been told" by David Cameron that the government is already imposing efficiency savings of £15bn on the public sector.

0821Mr Brown says he cannot defend the goings-on at Royal Bank of Scotland in the lead-up to the crisis, but adds that, as chancellor, he could not have known all the details at the time.

0819The prime minister says he had a "battle with the City for 10 years", when he was told his regulation of financial institutions was "too tough".

0816Talking about the global economy, Mr Brown says that what "blew us off course" was the banking crisis, rather than the government's policies.
Gordon Brown

0813Gordon Brown tells BBC Radio 4's Today programme that a government which keeps interest rates low is the "best" thing for the future of the UK.

0807David Cameron tells BBC Radio Devon that arguments for keeping the same government in power in pursuit of "stability" can be "circular". The logical conclusion to them would be maintaining Gordon Brown in Downing Street "forever", he adds. Mr Cameron also pays tribute to his shadow cabinet team, in particular praising shadow foreign secretary William Hague.
David Cameron

0753Marks and Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose says it is "unfortunate" that he and fellow big business leaders who back the Tories' plans not to raise National Insurance contributions have been dismissed as "dupes" by Labour. On Wednesday, Gordon Brown said Sir Stuart and others had been "deceived" by David Cameron and his allies.

0746Some good news for the thousands of canvassers out there. The UK can expect some "spring-like" weather at the weekend, forecasters say. Temperatures could reach a balmy 19 degrees C.
Grinning mouth graphic

0719 Mr Cameron's just been on GMTV. He says while Gordon Brown accuses him of taking £6bn out of the economy, the PM says he's identified £11bn of waste but "doesn't want to do anything about it until next year. We think that's mad." Like Mr Brown yesterday, he also says he's a bit concerned about the effect of the hectic campaign period on his family, but says his wife Samantha was keen to get involved. He also refuses to say if he'd step down as Tory leader in the event of a hung parliament: "I'm going all out to win", he says.

0637
David Cameron
A bit more on David Cameron's plans for a voluntary, non-military form of "national service". The Conservative leader will be on GMTV in a bit outlining his ideas. The summer residential scheme would see 16-year-olds living and working together for two months - doing outdoor physical challenges and community service. Mr Cameron had considered making it compulsory but was talked out of that by charities who said it wouldn't work.

0612
Gordon Brown
Good morning and welcome back to our election live text commentary. The prime minister is due on the BBC's Today programme. Later Labour will attack the Conservatives' plans to curb planned National Insurance increases - the Tories were boosted by more support from business leaders yesterday. The Lib Dems will also say the Conservatives have not worked out where they will get the money to fund the policy. David Cameron will elaborate on his idea to get all 16-year-olds to take part in two months' voluntary service. Plaid Cymru are also launching their election campaign. And expect a busy day ahead as ministers try to get remaining legislation through Parliament before prorogation.

0010On Thursday's agenda, we're expecting Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg to go to Scotland, while Tory chief David Cameron is expected to go to East Anglia and the south west of England. The horse-trading of "wash-up week" will also continue, with parties trying to either commit to, or abandon, items of legislation before Parliament is formally dissolved next week.

2400Politics is again on the front pages on Thursday, but several of the papers return to their more traditional allegiances, rather than focus on the campaign as a whole. The Daily Mail attacks Labour's jobs record while the Daily Telegraph goes for the government over National Insurance. The Guardian, however, claims a senior Tory adviser will stand to benefit personally from David Cameron's spending cuts.

2250The Conservatives are under fire on the front page of tomorrow's Guardian. The paper claims that Sir Peter Gershon, one of the men behind the Tories' public spending cuts plan, will benefit personally from them as the chair of a private sector healthcare group.

2246Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw tells the BBC's Newsnight that he would be happy to work with other parties if there are policies they agree on. He thinks Labour and the Lib Dems are aligned on electoral reform - whereas the Conservatives have "killed" efforts the government has made to squeeze through last-minute reforming legislation.

2242The Daily Telegraph on Thursday leads with the headline, "Brown 'at war with bosses'". It says business leaders are "angered" that Gordon Brown claims they have been deceived by the Conservatives over National Insurance policy.

2239Dipping into the BBC's Newsnight programme, Michael Crick is in the Liverpool Riverside constituency, which has had the lowest turnout of the whole UK in several past elections. Today he found considerable scepticism, with two pub-goers saying that nothing ever changes for them regardless of who is in power. A solider, however, told our correspondent that if one party offered more for the armed forces they could win his vote.

2228Tomorrow's Times has the front page headline, "The Cameron Question", with the subtitle, "The best thing since sliced bread? Not everyone is convinced". It's a reference to the Tory leader's visit to Warburton's bakery today.

2225We've now got the first edition of tomorrow's Independent - and they've steered clear of all things election for their main front page story. There is a plug for a political piece at the top though, asking whether parents influence how their children go on to vote.

2220But Foreign Secretary David Miliband says there can be no "ifs and buts" about discrimination and Chris Grayling's comments show he is "completely unfit" to be home secretary. Lib Dem Sir Menzies Campbell agrees, saying Mr Grayling has "form" for making unwise comments, citing a recent example about alleged misuse of crime figures.

2215Comments made by shadow home secretary Chris Grayling about the right of bed and breakfast owners to turn away gap couples have come up on the BBC's Question Time. For the Tories, Theresa May says it is clear from Mr Grayling's voting record that he supports anti-discrimination laws.

2212The front pages of the first editions are beginning to drop in our inbox. The Daily Mail's headline is "Labour's betrayal of British workers", saying 1.67 million jobs since 1997 "have gone to a foreigner".



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