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Blair names UK election date

Tony Blair
Blair told ministers to ignore opinion polls  

LONDON, England -- A general election will be held in the UK on June 7, Prime Minister Tony Blair has said.

Blair named the poll date on Tuesday afternoon two hours after he held a 20-minute meeting with Queen Elizabeth II at which he sought formal consent to dissolve Parliament and set an election in motion.

The prime minister made his announcement at a south London girls' school flanked by Education Secretary David Blunkett, emphasising the importance education is set to play in the campaign.

He said the foundations of economic stability had been set by his party during the past four years, but that "the work must go on."

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    "We seek a mandate not just for continuity, but for change," he said.

    Outlining changes made in education, health and law and order, Blair said: "there is a lot done, but there is a lot more to do."

    He called for more investment, greater economic stability, radical reforms and an opportunity to give people more chances in life.

    Conservative opposition leader William Hague, who was out campaigning before Blair's announcement, said the government had "squandered a huge Commons majority, the goodwill of the people of this country, and the best set of economic conditions any government has ever inherited."

    "We've got a government that will not be so much asking for a second term as a second chance and what everyone will have to think about is can they afford to give them a second chance," he said.

    Despite Blair's strong lead in opinion polls, Hague said he was confident of victory in the election. "We are planning for victory; we are ready to win," he said on Monday.

    The leader of Britain's third main party, the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy, said his party would offer a positive and constructive campaign.

    "Every campaign is a test of every party leader's character and leadership, but I think we have got the most united party of the three," he said.

    "We are ready for the off now and I am looking forward to it."

    Blair's Labour Party, which won power in a 1997 landslide, is heavily favoured to win a new election.

    The most recent surveys gave Blair a lead of nearly 20 points over the Conservatives.

    Blair wanted ministers to set out "with honesty and humility" the government's record and its determination to improve services for everyone -- "not just the few."

    The prime minister does not need to call an election until mid-2002 but it has been an open secret for months that he wants an earlier vote to take advantage of a buoyant economy.

    The expected election date had been May 3, but in early April at the height of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak the government refrained from calling a general election.

    Blair had already announced that local elections would go ahead on June 7.



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