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The BBC's Andrew Marr
"The campaign has exposed questions for both Labour and the Tories about the longer-term future of tax and spending"
 real 56k

Head to head on tax
Conservative Party's Andrew Lansley, Labour's Alastair Darling & Lib Dem's Matthew Taylor
 real 28k

Chris Giles of the Financial Times
says that National Insurance is the tax that both Labour and Conservatives always increase
 real 28k

Monday, 21 May, 2001, 22:12 GMT
Tax row blazes
Blair: Took voters' calls on BBC Radio 5Live
The three main parties have locked horns over tax and national insurance during heated argument over the economy.

The Tories said a second Labour Government would put up "stealth" or hidden taxes, and challenged ministers to rule out increases in national insurance contributions.

But Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling insisted no political party could make such a pledge, and that the Tories were asking for "commitments they will not give themselves".

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy refused to become embroiled in the row, saying "Labour and the Conservatives are just playing the same game over national insurance as they played over taxation".

Kennedy: Hammering the message home
Labour also launched a mock shadow budget exposing what they say is a "massive black hole" which would lead to 20bn in cuts in Tory spending plans.

With the election campaign now in its third week, Prime Minister Tony Blair got on his battle bus to tell voters Labour's first term was about putting the public finances on a sound footing.

Speaking at Gravesend in Kent, he said the second term would be about renewing the public services - education, the NHS, transport, and the criminal justice system.

Mr Blair also took questions from listeners to BBC Radio 5Live's Nicky Campbell show.

Hague made a brief appearance in Northampton
He told one woman caller from Birkenhead, whose son had recently lost his job at shipbuilders Cammell Laird, that he could not "stop the world changing in the way that it is".

Mr Blair said he could only promise that "the economy will be strong and there will be other jobs in the economy".

Tory leader William Hague was also out and about, although his audience was somewhat less captive.

During a visit to the marginal seat of Northampton he had to beat a hasty retreat after only 10 minutes because of heckling from Labour supporters.

He did manage to meet about 100 Tory voters, however, who cheered him outside his Keep the Pound truck.

Alan Hope
Alan Hope launched the Monster Raving Loony Party's campaign
The Tories also launched their business manifesto.

This was boosted by 140 business leaders who wrote to the Daily Telegraph warning that "Britain is being taken in the wrong direction".

Proposed measures include reducing fuel duty, scrapping the climate change levy, the aggregates tax, and IR35 - which affects many self-employed people.

Later, the Tory party was back in the spotlight when a new poll for BBC News Online suggested that it was struggling to make any impression in key areas of the election campaign.

After two weeks of the campaign, William Hague was said to be trailing a massive 31 points behind Tony Blair in the popularity stakes and is now running neck and neck with Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy.

The Liberal Democrats themselves focused on the environment and public transport, with a call for Railtrack to be split in two.

But they also attacked both Tory "stealth cuts" and Labour "stealth taxes", insisting "honesty and delivery" in terms of quality public services were at the heart of their appeal to voters.

Tony Blair was given a Fireman Sam for his son Leo
Charles Kennedy pledged to put a "safe, reliable and affordable" public transport system at the heart of his political agenda.

During a visit to a conservation project in Kent, he said public transport under the Conservatives had been left in a mess and had gone backwards under Labour.

But he refused to become embroiled in the disagreement between the Tories and Labour over national insurance.

The loony vote

Monster Raving Loony Party leader Alan "Howling Laud" Hope has entered the election race with a promise to reducing class sizes by making children stand closer together.

Speaking to BBC News Online as he officially registered as a candidate for the Aldershot constituency, he said politicians took themselves far too seriously.

He is tempting voters with a diverse manifesto, including changing the driving test to incorporate the rules of the TV quiz show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and insisting that "boy racers" be made to drive Reliant Robins and 2CVs.


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