Brown puts education at heart of campaign

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Indy Politics

About 12,500 primary schools will be refurbished or renewed over the next five years if Labour is re-elected, Gordon Brown will say today.

About 12,500 primary schools will be refurbished or renewed over the next five years if Labour is re-elected, Gordon Brown will say today.

The Chancellor will deliver a speech announcing that the old mantra, "education, education, education", is back as the central theme in Labour's election manifesto.

He will promise that public spending on education will increase every year in the next Parliament if Labour is returned to power, and that by 2008 the education budget will be two and a half times bigger than government expenditure on unemployment and debt repayments. In 1997, debt payments and the dole together cost more than the education budget.

But Mr Brown was one of the senior ministers kept in the dark about Peter Mandelson's involvement last week in last-minute election planning. The Chancellor and the EU Trade Commissioner have been loggerheads for more than 10 years. An ally of the Chancellor said Mr Brown would be furious to find that his rival was back.

Senior figures privately insist that Mr Mandelson has not been handed a major role. One minister, on hearing that Mr Mandelson might be called in, said: "No, no. He might be engaged, but what he's not engaged in - I don't know. "

Despite Mr Mandelson's two forced resignations from the Cabinet, the Prime Minister has repeatedly turned to him in secret. Mr Mandelson was, ironically, asked to mastermind the Prime Minister's renunciation of "spin" after the departure of Alastair Campbell, the former communications director, from No 10.

His return will be seen as evidence of the Prime Minister's nervousness about the election, despite favourable polls. Mr Campbell has also been brought back to help secure a third term.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have been buoyed by recent polling data which suggests that upheaval in the Conservative Party has knocked its leader, Michael Howard.

An opinion poll commissioned by The Independent on Sunday gives Labour a six-point lead. The poll, carried out by CommunicateResearch, gives Labour 40 per cent of the vote, the Conservatives 34 per cent and the Liberal Democrats 16 per cent.

This contrasts with a Labour lead of 12 points in the IoS poll last week, which is probably explained by random sampling variation rather than a shift in opinions. CommunicateResearch interviewed a random sample of 1,010 adults by telephone on 24 and 25 March for the latest poll, which also showed that Labour's support among women is sharply lower, which may reflect greater volatility.

Labour's own polling, conducted by the party's pollster Philip Gould, gives it a nine-point lead over the Tories. Lord Gould's findings suggest that the Tories have been hit hard by the controversy surrounding the dismissal of Tory MP Howard Flight.

Two-thirds of those asked believed Mr Flight was telling the truth when he implied that a Tory government would make more budget cuts than the party had admitted in public.

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, will kick off his campaign this week with a 2,000-mile tour through marginal seats.

Asked about the strategy meeting on Wednesday, the Prime Minister's spokesman declined to deny that Mr Mandelson was present.

For the full details of the 'IoS' poll visit www.communicateresearch.com

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