Cabinet 'awayday' marks start of Labour's bid to win a second term

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Tony Blair will fire the starting gun today for a general election next May when the Cabinet meets for an "awayday" at Chequers to plan Labour's campaign.

Tony Blair will fire the starting gun today for a general election next May when the Cabinet meets for an "awayday" at Chequers to plan Labour's campaign.

The Prime Minister will demand radical ideas from each cabinet minister for inclusion in Labour's manifesto in an attempt to convince voters that the party needs a second term because it still has "a lot more to do".

The Cabinet will also discuss the measures to be included in the Queen's Speech on 6 December and how they will dovetail with Labour's election strategy. The programme will be much smaller than usual to leave room for a spring poll.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, who will head the campaign, will today brief the Cabinet on his overall strategy. Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who will jointly run the day-to-day campaign with Mr Brown, will speak about the "state of readiness" of Labour's Millbank headquarters. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, will report on battle plans for target seats.

Despite speculation that Mr Blair was worried about the lack of new policy proposals for a second term, party insiders said last night that the Downing Street policy unit was "fizzing with fresh ideas".

The Labour campaign will aim to build on what has been achieved since 1997 but strike a contrite tone to respond to voters impatient about the slow pace of improvements to services such as health, transport and education.

The party's slogan will be "A lot done. A lot more to do." Labour will also argue that there is "a lot to lose", warning that if the people who backed the party in 1997 abstain or vote for another party they could let William Hague into Downing Street.

The Cabinet will be told today that a central element in the campaign will be to highlight the impact of the £16bn spending cuts it claims that an incoming Conservative government would make.

The charge is denied by the Tories, who are looking for savings of about £8bn from Labour's spending plans to allow Mr Hague to promise significant tax cuts in the Conservative manifesto.

The Tories are also on alert for a spring election and yesterday the party stepped up its pre-election effort by launching a nationwide push on crime.

Mr Hague said: "Mr Blair's record convicts him. Nearly 3,000 fewer police in the last three years, and now crime is rising again." He pledged to restore police manning levels to the 127,000 figure Labour inherited in 1997.

Asked how he would bolster police numbers and stem the rise in crime, he said: "We were doing this three years ago and we had 3,000 more police officers than there are now and we certainly succeeded in paying for it without any reduction in public services.

"We have shown how we will pay for some serious welfare reforms and reduce the cost of government. [Labour] is spending £2bn a year more on running Whitehall. It's possible to restore police numbers to what they were."

Mr Hague said Mr Blair had not been tough on crime and had let thousands of criminals out of jail early. The Tories would abolish these early-release schemes and make sure criminals served the sentence handed down by the courts.

Mr Hague later visited West Bromwich West, the constituency vacated by the former Commons speaker Betty Boothroyd, to lend his support to the Conservative candidate Karen Bissell.

On a visit to Wednesbury Police Station, the Tory leader unveiled his party's law-and-order poster campaign, a picture of an officer and the slogan "P45, police numbers are down under Labour". After touring the site in Holyhead Road and talking to officers about the problems they face, he was met by around 20 local Labour Party supporters campaigning on behalf of their candidate, Adrian Bailey.

Wearing William Hague masks, they booed and held up a placard with the legend: "24 million cuts here."

One activist said: "The particular message for here is that police numbers are up under Labour - 523 over and above what the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, Edward Crew, has in his plans. The Tories can't say anything about law and order as their cuts guarantee will mean slashing public services, including 60 police officers [in the constituency]."

The UK Independence Party candidate, John Oakton, challenged Mr Hague and Ms Bissell on the Conservative's stance on Europe and the pound but was met with no response as they left for lunch.

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