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Blair unveils election platform

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Blair faces tough challenge in bid for historic third term.
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LONDON, England -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has unveiled his party's list of promises for the election he hopes will make history by giving his center-left Labour party a third consecutive term.

He said in the manifesto document that May 5 will be "my last election as leader of my party and prime minister of our country."

Labour's launch on Wednesday came as the Liberal Democrats said leader Charles Kennedy would return to launch his party's manifesto Thursday after the birth of baby Donald James. (Full story)

Labour's blueprint has, for the first time since 1997, no picture of the prime minister on the cover of the document and repeats previous campaign pledges not to increase the basic or top rate of income tax.

A pledge to preserve economic stability is at the heart of the party's 110-page manifesto, but key issues such as Britain's place in Europe will remain unresolved, Reuters reported.

Polls show Blair on course to win the May 5 election, even though his personal ratings have been battered by the Iraq war.

He and his finance minister, Gordon Brown, have put aside periodic feuding to campaign together.

The premier has promised Brown he will retain his job after May 5 in a bid to entrench economic stability.

To that end, Labour's manifesto restates an inflation target of two percent, which the Bank of England must tailor interest rates to meet, Reuters said.

A commitment not to raise rates of income tax -- key to Blair's 1997 and 2001 election wins -- is set to be repeated but a broader pledge not to hike any taxes will probably be absent.

Economists say the government's spending plans mean higher taxes at some point after the vote, an analysis Brown denies.

"All of the spending plans that we have in place are fully costed, fully affordable," Labour election strategist Alan Milburn told BBC Radio.

Plans already public

Labour's high command have already spelled out many of their plans, including:

  • A drive to increase the number of people employed from around 75 percent to 80 percent of the working age population.
  • More money for extra teachers, healthy school meals and a push to get children fit.
  • Helping a million new homeowners onto the property ladder.
  • Further increases in the minimum wage.
  • "Family friendly" policies including more childcare provision and parental leave.
  • Other staples like crime-fighting will figure prominently and Blair's plans to cut poverty in Africa will be highlighted to woo traditional Labour voters turned off by the war in Iraq.

    By promising a referendum on the European Union constitution next year, Blair has neutered Europe as an election issue, Reuters said, although he said on Monday Britain could still adopt the bloc's single currency if the right economic conditions were in place.

    That pro-European rhetoric will be repeated in the manifesto as will a pledge to push for faster economic reform of the EU. Britain holds the EU presidency for the second half of 2005.

    The Opposition Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats launched early counter-attacks, with the Conservatives saying they are to screen a cinema advert targeting the British prime minister personally.

    In the video, Conservative leader Michael Howard promises to "wipe the smirk off his face". The ad builds on internal polling understood to have found that many voters are particularly turned off Blair by his smile.

    Blair has already sought to challenge reports that he is at loggerheads with Gordon Brown by starring in a soft-focus TV movie with his chief finance minister.

    Labour said the Conservatives planned to spend more, reduce borrowing and cut taxes all at the same time -- which was unachievable. (Full story)

  • Labour have a four-point lead over the Tories and could still enjoy a parliamentary majority of more than 100 MPs, according to a poll Wednesday in the London's Evening Standard. The MORI poll put Labour on 39 percent among the 58 percent who said they were certain to vote. The Conservatives were on 35 percent and the Liberal Democrats on 21 percent.

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