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Saturday, 26 May, 2001, 17:53 GMT 18:53 UK
Hague warns of euro defeat
Conservative leader William Hague has taken a high risk gamble by warning he would be likely to lose a referendum to keep the pound.
Dramatically raising the stakes over Europe, he claimed only a Tory victory on 7 June could stop the euro being imposed on the UK.
The other main parties also played what they see as their strongest cards - Labour focusing on health and the Liberal Democrats calling for the abolition of university tuition fees in England and Wales.
Meanwhile, the latest opinion poll suggests Labour still has a commanding lead of 19 points over the Tories.
12 days left
Unveiling an election countdown clock, William Hague said there were "just 12 days to save the pound".
He claimed another Labour government would spend millions convincing voters to back the euro in a formal referendum.
He told Tory activists in Loughborough: "They fixed the rules so their side could spend twice as much as we could.
"They would choose the question, they would choose the timing.
"I think they would have a very good chance of winning it - that's why the key decision on the pound is being taken on 7 June."
Shadow chancellor Michael Portillo went further, hinting that there could be civil unrest if the UK joined the euro.
"When people despair of democratic change then people become desperate," he said.
"Then people become frustrated. The people get ugly. We have at all costs to avoid all of that.
"The British people aren't there to be blagged, bamboozled or hoodwinked. The British people will not give up the pound."
Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy said the election was not a referendum on the euro but on the quality of public services - an argument he claimed the Tories had lost.
"William Hague is thrashing round like an increasingly desperate man", he added.
Plaid Cymru also entered the euro debate.
The party's Cynog Dafis said: "I think that entry to the euro is appropriate as long as the exchange rate is right. It's certainly not right now."
But as Labour attempted to focus on its plans for the NHS, the hospital Cherie Blair was due to visit had to close its paediatric intensive care unit to new admissions because of staff shortages.
The unit at Rochdale Infirmary blamed the closure on high admissions but the department re-opened ahead of Mrs Blair's visit.
At a rally near Preston, Mr Blair admitted there was still 'a lot of work to be done' to fully modernise the NHS.
Health Secretary Alan Milburn had already warned that patients' treatment would be threatened by a Tory election win.
He claimed that Conservative tax cuts would lead a Trojan horse into the NHS, resulting in poorer services.
"In total the Tories' Trojan horse health policy would mean 310,000 fewer NHS operations," he said.
In their weekend campaigning, the Liberal Democrats said no student in the UK would pay tuition fees if their party was elected.
At a rally of Lib Dem students in London, Simon Hughes told them: "In Scotland already, as a result of Liberal Democrat policy, tuition fees have gone."
The party hopes the student vote could swing several marginal seats their way.
An NOP opinion poll, to be published in the Sunday Times, registers no change for the three main parties' ratings since last week.
Labour remains on 49%, the Conservatives on 30% and the Lib Dems on 14%.
The poll suggests Conservative opposition to the euro reflects majority public opinion (in this survey 61% said they would vote "no" in a referendum).
But, by 53% to 35%, those questioned also said they expected Britain to join the single currency during the next parliament.
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