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The BBC's Andrew Marr
"William Hague seems entirely self confident- either that, or he is a much better actor than Tony Blair"
 real 56k

Thursday, 31 May, 2001, 21:28 GMT 22:28 UK
Seaside battle on family tax
Hagues and voter
The Hagues meet a voter in sunny Torbay
The party leaders have spent much of the day at the seaside as a battle opened up over who would do most for families.

The Tories made the early running with a claim that Labour would leave a million families worse off by taxing or means-testing child benefit.

But Chancellor Gordon Brown rejected the charge and said the Tories had scored a "spectacular own goal" by allowing Labour to demonstrate how much it had done for families.

The Liberal Democrats have campaigned on their plans for pensioners and said they are the only viable alternative to Labour.

blair
Blair's hair gets a makeover not unlike the one Labour's poster gave Hague
But with the election hotting up, the party leaders went to the seaside to meet voters and no doubt take advantage of the sunshine.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had earlier launched a "crusade" to put schools and hospitals first, decided to take the scenic route through Brighton on an open-top bus.

Mr Blair, accompanied by his wife Cherie and Employment Minister Tessa Jowell, took a five-mile drive through the three constituencies in the Brighton area - Hove, Pavilion and Kemptown.

They had received a mixed reception from both Labour and Tory supporters at the Hangleton Community Library in Hove.

And Mr Blair urged people to get out and vote, in a speech at a Labour rally in Croydon, in London.

Meanwhile, the Tory leader William Hague called on the British people to give the Labour Party its "marching orders" to make Britain a better place.

Charles Kennedy
Kennedy: Salutes the pensioners

He visited the country's most marginal constituency of Torbay for his longest walkabout yet, in an effort to hammer home his message to "keep the pound" and "save rural Britain".

It is traditionally a Tory seat, but was won by Lib Dem Adrian Sanders by just 12 votes in 1997, making it the Conservatives' most winnable target seat.

He and his wife Ffion appeared alongside Tory candidate Christian Sweeting, who was until recently facing a charge relating to a firearms incident outside his mother's house.

However the charge was dismissed by magistrates last month after the prosecution discontinued the case.

t-shirt
One Tory supporter sported a Warhol-style Thatcher T-shirt
The Lib Dems' Charles Kennedy was also in Torbay, meeting pensioners in the Dick Francis Suite of Paignton's Redcliffe Hotel.

But before he could reach them Mr Kennedy was told in no uncertain terms to go back to Scotland by 72-year-old Peter Simpkins.

The party leader ignored the comments, and Mr Simpkins was led away by a police officer who warned he could face a public order charge for using "foul and abusive language".

Mr Kennedy later faced Conservative hecklers as he addressed the party faithful in Southport.

He told the audience that Mr Blair had forgotten why he was elected and said that there was little to choose between the policies of Labour and the Conservatives.

Earlier on Thursday, the Tories shifted the spotlight away from their "save the pound" campaign back onto the tax agenda.

Tax row

They said Labour would mount a "stealth tax" on children by taxing or means-testing child benefit.

The party insisted Labour would use the charges to fill a 1bn "black hole" in its plans to introduce a new system of child support in 2003.

At Labour's election news conference, Gordon Brown rebutted the charge, saying he had already made clear child benefit would not be taxed and would remain universal.

He said Labour had made families more prosperous, pointing to a 26% rise in child benefit since 1997, as well as other help to families.

Blitz

The chancellor claimed Tory policies would leave a million families between 20 and 50 a week out of pocket.

But shadow social security secretary David Willetts challenged the chancellor to make a clear statement not to introduce tax or means-testing on child benefit payments.

The latest row came as Labour launched a campaign blitz through posters, leaflets and telephone canvassing on its "schools and hospitals" theme.

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