Mandelson: Labour must hold its nerve

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Indy Politics

Lord Mandelson is urging Labour activists to "hold our nerve" in the face of growing Conservative confidence that they landed a crucial blow on national insurance rises.

With Gordon Brown expected to call the general election tomorrow, surveys suggest that Tory support has started firming up. The trend is confirmed in the first of a series of “poll of polls” in The Independent today.

The Conservatives are convinced that their promise to reverse planned increases in national insurance contributions for most workers has boosted their prospects. The Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson yesterday joined business leaders to oppose the rises.

The Tories intend to follow this by setting out plans for new tax breaks for married couples. Labour will retaliate by claiming the Tories will be forced to put up VAT or implement swingeing cuts to pay for their pledge.

Lord Mandelson, who will direct Labour’s election campaign, says to supporters: “Our most important mission is to secure the recovery. Nothing must get in the way. This is the critical issue of this election – who has the better policies and judgement to lock in recovery.”

He accuses the Tories of putting “short-term political interests before the longer-term economic interests of the country”. He insists: “A rise in NICs may not be popular but it is necessary, and therefore it is the right thing for the country.”

Mr Brown looks certain to go the Buckingham Palace tomorrow to ask the Queen for permission to hold a general election on 6 May. A few days of frantic horse-trading over Bills would ensue ahead of Parliament being dissolved at the end of the week.

The parties will launch their manifestoes next week, with the first of the TV debates between the main party leaders taking place on 15 April.

In a podcast today, Mr Brown compares the fragile economic recovery to England footballer Wayne Rooney's damaged ankle. He says: "If we try and jump off the treatment table as if nothing had happened we'll do more damage to the economy and frankly that means we risk a double-dip recession."