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The BBC's political correspondent Vicki Young
"Ministers were keen to renew their attack on Tory policies"
 real 56k

Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling
"We are committed to tackling pensioner poverty"
 real 56k

Conservative Party leader William Hague
"We will bring in new schemes to protect the assets and homes of people who need long-term care"
 real 28k

Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes
"Many pensioners who have voted Labour all their lives will not be voting Labour again"
 real 56k

Angela Sinclair of Islington Pensioner Forum
"New Labour for me is very disappointing"
 real 56k

Saturday, 19 May, 2001, 12:02 GMT
Labour woos grey vote
Pensioners and pension book
Labour has launched its bid to attract the votes of pensioners with a package of 10 pledges, including extra money for pensioners in need and discounts on long distance travel.

The measures are to be highlighted at a series of rallies across the country on Saturday.

The choice in this election: dignity and prosperity with Labour or cuts, privatisation of the basic state pension and rising pensioner poverty under the Tories

Margaret Beckett
Cabinet minister
Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling said the proposals could never be matched by the Conservatives either on financial or ideological grounds.

But the Tories - who are concentrating their campaigning on education - rejected the charge with leader William Hague accusing Labour of "cheek" following the 75p-a-week rise in the basic pension.

He said that a Conservative government would take a million pensioners out of the tax system.

Biggest mistake

Meanwhile Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy is maintaining his party's focus on health with a hospital visit on the Isle of Skye.

Mr Darling formally launched Labour's pensioner charter at a morning news conference, saying: "These are 10 pledges which the Tories could never match because they could not deliver the sound economy which is the foundation of good quality public services for pensioners.

"They are 10 pledges which the Tories would not match because they are ideologically opposed to the public investment which our public services require."

Labour hopes to persuade many more pensioners to vote Labour than previously, despite Tony Blair's admission that the 75p pension rise was possibly his biggest mistake as prime minister.

He will be joined by singer and TV presenter Jane McDonald at a national rally to launch Labour's Pensioners' Charter.

Cabinet members and showbiz personalities will be at eight other rallies across Britain.

Pensions promise

Labour is reinforcing its manifesto commitment to increase the basic pension next April by 3 a week, with 4.80 a week for couples and with further increases in 2003.

It also says it would retain the winter fuel payment and free television licences for the over-75s.

But in each of the last five general elections the Conservatives' share of the pensioner vote has been ahead of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The Conservatives are offering a higher increase in the state pension next year, of another 1 a week for those 75 and over.

This will include the option for a higher rate for those who consolidate allowances such as the winter fuel payment.

But it is the Liberal Democrats who are proposing the biggest increases of 5 a week for single pensioners and 10 for over-75s, with 15 for over-80s.

Red tape

The Conservatives focus on education includes highlighting their pledges to simplify the national curriculum and abolish targets to reduce the number of pupils being excluded.

Tory education spokeswoman Theresa May said they would free teachers "from form-filling" and said head teachers would be given more power to exclude disruptive pupils.

Labour's charter launch comes the day after Mr Blair was tackled on low morale in the NHS.

In a question and answer session in Norwich, the prime minister was told by one GP that targets were too demanding and impossible to meet.

Mr Blair said: "All I can say is that it will take time to deliver it. In the meantime I know that it is very pressurised and difficult. The only way is to get the money in.

"We have to get the staff and bricks and mortar in place that give us some prospect for the future."


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