Major and Blair square up for autumn battles

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR and his Shadow Cabinet yesterday reinforced an agreed strategy to attack the Tories as the 'tax and spend' party with a strict ban on the making of spending pledges before the next election.

John Major's Cabinet meanwhile agreed an autumn counter-attack, using the Conservative Party conference to seek credit for improvements in education results, falling crime and economic growth.

Labour's offensive, hammered out at a five-hour special meeting of the Shadow Cabinet, follows private polling which shows that while the Government is deeply unpopular Labour has not reached the stage of translating that into electoral success.

The Tory high command said last night that its own private polling showed there was 'still all to play for' in spite of Labour's lead. The Cabinet emerged from a session at Downing Street confident that Mr Blair's 'honeymoon' period would fade. There was confusion over how it should deal with Mr Blair's personal appeal. The Cabinet applauded an attack by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, on the Labour leader as 'irresponsible, young and inexperienced'. But one senior Tory source said: 'What we don't want to do is for the next two years of politics to revolve around T Blair.'

Mr Major supported a strategy briefing to the Cabinet by Jeremy Hanley, the Conservative Party chairman. 'The Prime Minister said that we must at the conference get the credit for what has already been achieved and set out clearly what we now going to do,' said the source.

Mr Blair emphasised to the Shadow Cabinet that decisions on what costed public spending commitments should be made were a long way off. The resolve to 'turn the table on the Tories' on tax and spending had to be combined, however, with repeated messages about what Labour stood for: 'high' employment, high investment and high growth.