Blair hits road to unveil election pledges

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair embarked on a whirlwind tour today to unveil his party's six pledges which will form the focus of its election campaign.

The Prime Minister began in London with Chancellor Gordon Brown, disclosing the slogan: "Your family better off."

Mr Blair then moved on by helicopter to Kettering to join up with Health Secretary John Reid.

The two revealed the second pledge on the NHS: "Your family treated better and faster."

The Prime Minister set a target of reducing maximum NHS waiting time to 18 weeks.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly joined the premier at the next venue in Warwick to unveil the pledge slogan: "Your child achieving more."

Further pledges were expected to focus on crime, immigration and asylum but Labour officials refused to divulge details.

Mr Blair will end his helicopter trip in Gateshead where Labour's spring conference is getting under way.

He will join deputy leader John Prescott there to unveil the sixth and final promise.

Opponents swiftly condemned the pre-election campaign, with shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin pointing out that Mr Blair had failed to promise not to put up taxes and Liberal Democrat chairman Matthew Taylor condemning the move as a "stunt" which would not wash with the British people.

Beginning his journey at the Battersea Reach housing development in London, Mr Blair said: "We'll make sure that the British people get the economy that we need and also that we equip them for that economy in the 21st century."

Mr Brown said: "I believe that a Labour Government is the only government that can be trusted with the British economy."

Mr Blair would not say when the general election would be held, adding: "I can't tell you that because I don't know it."

During the event he also praised Mr Brown's stewardship of the economy and he was later asked if the Chancellor would be staying in his job after the election.

The Prime Minister said: "He's done an absolutely superb job and I am sure he'll carry on doing so."

Mr Blair paid tribute to Mr Brown for his contribution to Labour's achievements, saying: "Over the past seven or eight years people have learned not just to trust the management of the economy that Gordon has achieved, but also to recognise that without that foundation of economic stability nothing of this can be achieved."

He said that people still remembered the "boom and bust" and recession of the Tory years.

But the Prime Minister, when asked, would not give a pledge on tax.

Labour claimed that by 2005 to 2006, households would on average be £800 a year better off than in 1997.

The party also said the poorest fifth of families had seen their incomes rise by 18% and pensioner households would be £1,350 a year better off in real terms.

In its pledge today, it said it would continue with the policies which had delivered economic prosperity, and tackled unemployment by continuing with New Deals and reforming incapacity benefit.

Asked why the pledges were being launched today, even though no election date has been set, Mr Blair said: "We are doing this in order to help you see how much better-off people have been over the past few years.

"The important thing about it is to make sure that we actually build on what we have already done."

At Kettering General Hospital the Prime Minister said: "People were waiting for very long periods of time and at international conferences the NHS used to be seen as the way not to do it.

"Today people say if you look at the treatment you get, people say that is how you should do it.

"But we have got to do more.

"Having brought these waiting times down, we've got to do a lot better."

And in Warwick Mr Blair joked with pupils at a school as he signed up to the education promise.

But the shadow chancellor said: "It is striking that Labour's 'economic pledge' doesn't say a single word about tax.

"Almost every serious economic commentator says Labour's plans mean big tax rises after the election if Labour are re-elected.

"It is not a question of whether Mr Blair will put up taxes if he was re-elected - but which taxes he would put up?

"If the respected independent Institute for Fiscal Studies is right, Labour's policies will mean £11 billion of tax rises straight away - a 3p rise in National Insurance that is equivalent to £1,000 a year extra to pay for a typical working couple.

"Instead of woolly and meaningless talk about the economy, what the British public need from Labour is an honest answer to the question: which tax are you going to raise?"

Mr Taylor, for the Lib Dems, said: "All the pledges in the world won't restore the public's trust in this Government.

"From tuition fees to the war in Iraq, Labour has failed to be honest and straightforward with the public.

"This sort of stunt might have been believable in 1997, but it just won't wash with the British public now."