ELECTION COUNTDOWN : Blair to ditch negative campaigning

'Burning need' to lift tone of debate prompts party chiefs to change tactics
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The Independent Online
A complete change of election campaign tactics will be revealed by Tony Blair and John Prescott this morning, with a switch from negative poster attacks to a positive presentation of Labour policy.

A party source said yesterday that the change of direction came in response to "a burning need to lift the tone" of the campaign.

The Labour poster showing the two faces of John Major to illustrate broken promises on tax and other issues is to be replaced by a positive message that was being kept under wraps last night.

The new poster campaign, which was resisted by some advisers who felt that negative campaigning won votes, will be the most extensive, and expensive, in the party's history.

Explaining the change, the party source said: "If we are totally positive, we will be seen to be making an effort to rise above sleaze."

All three main party manifestoes are to be published this week, with the Tories opening on Wednesday, followed by Labour on Thursday, and the Liberal Democrats on Friday.

But it became clear yesterday that the Labour manifesto would launch what the party source called "a final raid into the political territory vacated by Labour in the Seventies and Eighties" - Mr Blair's wholesale adoption of political issues that the Conservatives were allowed to monopolise during Labour's "wilderness years".

The manifesto, largely drafted by Mr Blair, describes Labour as the party of the family, law and order, business, and sound finance. The Labour leader also picks up the one- nation call of the Tory left, saying: "I believe in Britain. I want a Britain that is One Nation, with shared values and purpose ... which stands for the many, not the few."

Key extracts from the manifesto say:

t "Strong families are the foundation of strong communities."

t "We see healthy profits as the essential motor of a dynamic economy."

t "Save to invest is our approach, not tax and spend."

t "Britain will be strong in defence and resolute in standing up for its own interests".

Education was last night being described as the "centrepiece", and David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, will today outline manifesto policy on the creation of a "numeracy taskforce" to improve teaching of maths in schools.

The manifesto says: "We must recognise the three Rs for what they are; building blocks of learning that must be taught better."

But the manifesto will also contain some of the negative attacks that are to be ditched from Labour's poster campaign. It says that "the Conservatives have forgotten the order part of law and order", and Mr Blair says: "The Conservatives' broken promises taint all politics. That is why our guiding rule is not to promise what we can't deliver, and to deliver what we promise."

The Liberal Democrat manifesto will have the theme of "Make the Difference" saying that only they can make a difference to children's education, the environment, and the economy.

The manifesto will also contain a specimen tax contract that would go out to all taxpayers each year, showing how their money was to be spent.

A party spokesman said yesterday that the contract would be based on four rules: no taxation without explanation; no promises to be made without a costing attached; no more tax without first tackling waste; and fair tax for all, based on ability to pay.