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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 April, 2005, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Howard launches election campaign
Michael Howard arrives to launch the campaign
Mr Howard said voters did not have to settle for another Labour term
Michael Howard has launched the Conservatives' election campaign with a promise to "take action on the issues that matter" to hard working Britons.

The Tory leader flagged up clean hospitals, crime, schools, taxes and immigration in a speech in London.

He said voters could choose more "talk" from Tony Blair, or a Tory government.

He spoke ahead of Mr Blair officially announcing the election date and as Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy began a whistlestop tour of the country.

Mr Blair visited Buckingham Palace at 1100 BST to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament next week ready for a 5 May election.

We can't make Britain a better place if we sweep difficult issues under the carpet
Michael Howard

Launching the Conservative campaign Mr Howard, who will also make announcements in Birmingham and Manchester, said his party would stand up for hard working Britons who were "fed up" with the Labour government.

They would be rewarded with better value for money and lower taxes, while head teachers would be empowered to impose school discipline, and matrons to close infected hospital wards.

And the Tories would cut crime with 5,000 more "real" police officers a year, and tougher sentences, Mr Howard said.

"We will build a better, brighter future for our country," he said.

He said he had been criticised for raising issues such as immigration, asylum and travellers.

An immigration officer searches a car
The Conservatives have promised limits on immigration

But he said: "We can't make Britain a better place if we sweep difficult issues under the carpet.

"Everyone knows you won't fix a problem if you are not even prepared to discuss it."

Three polls out on Tuesday suggested the Tories had narrowed Labour's lead.

But no poll has indicated they are far enough ahead of Labour to overturn Mr Blair's 161-seat Commons majority.

Mr Howard accused the prime minister of "already secretly grinning" about a third election victory and warned voters of Labour's "smirking politics" and the Lib Dems' "woolly thinking".

Brown stresses economy

Britons did not have to settle for another Labour term, said Mr Howard, who invited voters to hold him to account, using the Conservatives' own "timetable for action".

"Beware yet another election where Mr Blair says one thing to get your vote on polling day and does something quite different afterwards," he said.

Chancellor Gordon Brown stressed Labour's record on the economy in an early speech on Tuesday, saying a Labour government would build "long-term economic success and opportunity for all".

Mr Kennedy is also starting a whistlestop tour to highlight the Liberal Democrats' plans to invigorate towns and cities through more affordable housing, more police and replacing council tax with a local income tax.



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