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Saturday, 19 May, 2001, 12:02 GMT
Labour woos grey vote
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
18 May 01 | Vote2001
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