Blair's six pledges set battle lines for the general election

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR drew up the battle lines for the general election yesterday, launching six pledges designed to persuade a sceptical electorate that the Government can improve their lives.

A pocket pledge card with six election slogans was published at the party's spring conference in Gateshead after Mr Blair had completed a whistle- stop helicopter tour of Britain.

Outlining the self-consciously optimistic and family-friendly promises covering child care, education, health, crime, the economy and immigration, Mr Blair told party faithful that people would connect with policies designed to improve their lives.

However, apart from a new commitment to allow men and women to choose who takes paid maternity leave, the detailed policies underlying the headline pledges contain little that has not been announced in a succession of departmental five-year plans.

Mr Blair said: "We are trying to say, in the past seven or eight years, not everything has changed for the better in this country; not everything has been the way we would like it. Life is a struggle - but my goodness this country has moved forward."

He added: "There will always be razzmatazz about election campaigns and pre-election campaigns but one thing is for sure, what matters to people are the policies. What matters is having the will in government to make these changes."

Liam Fox, the Conservative co-chairman, dismissed the pledges as "Groundhog Day" while Matthew Taylor, the Liberal Democrat chairman, said: "All the pledges in the world won't restore the public's trust in this Government."

Dr Fox said: "Tony Blair is at it again. He has had almost eight years in power and now, just weeks before a general election, he claims he has the answers to the problems we face."

Labour left-wingers also expressed concern. Mark Seddon, a member of the party's national executive, said the pledges were the work of a "magic circle around Tony Blair". The left-wing Labour Campaign Group issued its own list of five pledges, including calls for an end to the "occupation" of Iraq, abolition of university tuition fees, rail nationalisation and a significant increase in the basic state pension.

Alan Milburn, the party's election co-ordinator, dismissed criticism of the pledges, which he said would reconnect with voters by spelling out what a Labour government could achieve: "The pledges are written in a way that is deliberately designed to say to people: `This is what is in it for you'."

Labour's leadership used the first day of the conference to counter complacency in the ranks, notably John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, who urged party faithful to use the "fear factor" to encourage supporters not to stay at home.

w The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, will today attempt to capitalise on the week's row over Black Wednesday, declaring: "Britain will never return to the mistakes of the ERM and 15 per cent interest rates, to three million unemployed, to pounds 3bn in lost reserves and Tory boom and bust."

Leading article, page 36

THE PLEDGE CARD

1 Your family better off: Continuing policies which have "delivered economic prosperity".

2 Your family treated better and faster: Reiterating details in the health five-year plan.

3 Your children achieving more: Wrapping up promises such as all secondary schools' specialist status.

4 Your children with the best start: Child care, children's centres and out-of-school activities.

5 Your community safer: Labour's law and order pitch.

6 Your country's borders protected: Promises of action on immigration.

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