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The BBC's Mark Mardell
"This Election is likely to make or break the two main party leaders"
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The BBC's Philippa Thomas
"It was open verbal warfare"
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Conservative Party leader, William Hague
"Never has a party taxed so much and achieved so little"
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Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown
"Ours is a balanced approach to taxation"
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Wednesday, 9 May, 2001, 21:31 GMT
Party leaders clash on euro

William Hague chose the euro as the battleground as he clashed with Tony Blair in the House of Commons for the last time before the general election.

The exchanges dominated the campaign day, although Labour attempted to shift the focus half-an-hour later by publishing its five point pledge card promising low mortgage rates and to recruit more teachers, nurses and police

Come clean, be straight and admit you want to ditch the pound as soon as you possibly can

William Hague
In the Commons Mr Hague challenged Mr Blair to "come clean, be straight and admit you want to ditch the pound as soon as you possibly can".

In reply Mr Blair told MPs: "In principle we are in favour of joining, in practice the economic conditions have to be met. We will give the final say to the British people in a referendum."

The heated exchanges came amid an end-of-term atmosphere as MPs packed the Commons chamber for the final prime minister's questions before polling on 7 June.

...a choice between humiliation or exit from Europe. Neither is a particularly palatable choice

Tony Blair's view of Tory policy
Mr Hague warned that the "central deception" of the election would be Mr Blair's pretence that he would give people a choice over the euro when in fact he was "planning to bounce them into the euro".

But Mr Blair said the Tory stance on Europe threatened the UK "with a choice between humiliation or exit from Europe. Neither is a particularly palatable choice".

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy asked Mr Blair if he regretted sticking to Tory spending plans for his first two years in power, given the effect on schools, hospitals and the police.

Mr Blair replied: "I do not regret the tough first two years because they were necessary."

Pledge card

Shortly after the leaders' clash ended, Labour unveiled an updated version of the pledge card famously launched in 1997 promising no income tax increases and cuts in school class sizes and hospital waiting lists.

The new one, covering the next parliament, promises that mortgages and inflation will be "kept as low as possible".

It also promises 10,000 more teachers, 20,000 extra nurses and 6,000 extra police recruits. The minimum wage will also be raised to 4.20 an hour.

Most of the figures have been previewed in Chancellor Gordon Brown's spending statements.

Ministers described the card as a "ready reckoner" to "highlight the differences between Labour and Tory policies".

Economy the issue

Earlier in the day the economy had emerged as the first battleground as campaigning got under way in earnest.

The Tories attacked the government's record on tax while Chancellor Gordon Brown said that only Labour could deliver "prosperity for all".

Later, Mr Blair gave his clearest hint yet that Labour would not raise the top rate of income tax.

He told a question and answer session in St Albans: "I think it is important that we keep incentives for people in the taxation system.

"I know many people who support us strongly might like us to change tax rates at the top, but I believe the best thing we can do is offer real opportunity at the bottom."

William Hague and Michael Ancram
Mr Hague attacked Labour's tax record
The Liberal Democrats have also opened their campaign. Their leader Charles Kennedy is on a whistle-stop tour of 11 British cities by Friday.

Conservative leader William Hague started the day by unveiling the party's first posters of the campaign.

He accused Labour of increasing taxes by stealth and failing to deliver improvements in public services.

"Never has a party taxed so much and achieved so little," he said.

Public services

Meanwhile, in a major speech in central London, the chancellor said his policies would deliver full-employment and improvements in public services.

He said Labour's "balanced" approach would ensure a stable economy and the end to boom and bust.

More seats

Charles Kennedy, in his first campaign as Lib Dem leader, said the party would "reach out" to voters.

There are potentially a great number of seats we can harvest in this election

Charles Kennedy
"There are potentially a great number of seats we can harvest in this election," he said.

Plaid Cymru has also launched its attempt to win more seats at Westminister.

At a news conference at the House of Commons, its policy director Cynog Dafis pledged to put public transport and more power for the Welsh Assembly at the heart of its campaign.


Issues: Economy




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