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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 April, 2005, 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK
Howard gambles on personal attack
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Michael Howard has opened up a new front in the second half of the election campaign with his most direct attacks yet on Tony Blair's honesty and trustworthiness.

Michael Howard
Asked if he was calling the prime minister a liar, Mr Howard said "yes"
For the second day running he has accused the prime minister of being a liar.

That is the most serious allegation a party leader can make about his opposite number.

So much so that if it is ever shown a leader deliberately lied to MPs in the Commons, he or she would have no option but to resign.

It is a weapon rarely used directly by political leaders against their opponents, although any number of other phrases are used to suggest dishonesty.

But, in an interview with the BBC's Breakfast with Frost, Mr Howard again showed he was not about to hang back from levelling the gravest of allegations against the prime minister.

'Take a stand'

"It is time for the British people to take a stand, to make a judgement on Tony Blair's character," he said.

Asked by Sir David Frost if he was calling Tony Blair a liar, he replied "yes" and pointed to both pre-election promises not to increase taxes and the case against Iraq as evidence of the prime minister's dishonesty.

Tony Blair
How will voters react to the attacks on Mr Blair's record on Iraq?

And he repeated his claim that Mr Blair lied to win elections - the implication being that he is doing the same during this campaign.

Honesty and trustworthiness have been undercurrents throughout this election contest and during the months leading up to it.

But, until now, they have not surfaced as a key theme. That seems to be about to change.

It appears Mr Howard is planning to use the last days of the campaign to focus on the issue.

And it is a theme expected to be taken up by the Liberal Democrats in the final phase of the contest.

What both Mr Howard and Mr Kennedy know is that the prime minister has taken a hit in the wake of the Iraq war in particular.

Polls suggest he may be a liability for Labour with some voters who give Chancellor Gordon Brown a higher trust rating.

It is something Labour and the prime minister himself are aware of, with Mr Blair admitting early on that he was likely to be an "issue" during the campaign.

'Lacklustre'

It is one of the reasons he has been appearing with Mr Brown alongside, and why the manifesto launch, in particular, stressed the team rather than the individual.

What cannot be fathomed from the polls, however, is whether there is any more damage to be done to the prime minister and Labour on this front.

Many believe any negative impact with voters has already happened - that they have mostly made up their minds what they think of the prime minister on this issue.

When it comes to voting, they will be swayed by other issues such as the economy, crime and immigration.

But both the opposition parties clearly believe there is still plenty of mileage left in this issue.

It looks like the currently low key, even lacklustre campaign may be about to take a new turn.





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Michael Howard speaks to Sir David Frost



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