Blair to take initiative on 'Tory issues' of asylum and immigration

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Tony Blair is to launch a fight-back over immigration and asylum to reassure voters that Labour's policy does not make it a "soft touch" on the issue.

Tony Blair is to launch a fight-back over immigration and asylum to reassure voters that Labour's policy does not make it a "soft touch" on the issue.

Despite Labour's lead in the opinion polls, party strategists are worried asylum and immigration are the "weakest links" in their election armoury. They are the only issues on which the polls consistently give the Tories the lead.

Mr Blair has decided to address the issue head-on and will deliver a speech or devote a press conference to it in the next 10 days.

The Prime Minister faces a dilemma over how to respond to the Tories, who have made immigration a major part of their campaign.

A more hardline Labour policy could appeal to working-class voters, a group where the Tories have gained support this year. But it could alienate the top AB social group, many of whom may desert Labour because of their opposition to the Iraq war.

Mr Blair will set a "balanced approach" highlighting "strict controls" but rejecting Tory calls for a limit on asylum numbers.

He will acknowledge the economic benefits of migration and is expected to stand by Britain's "decency and tolerance" in treating asylum claims.

Today, Labour will pledge to "end the uncertainty" over breast cancer with a pledge to allow all women who find a suspicious lump to see a specialist within two weeks.

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