Milburn turns up the heat on 'Tory cuts'

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Indy Politics

Labour offered a first glimpse of its general election tactics yesterday when it launched a summer campaign to sell its £43bn spending review to voters in key seats across the country.

Labour offered a first glimpse of its general election tactics yesterday when it launched a summer campaign to sell its £43bn spending review to voters in key seats across the country.

Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, declared that the party would concentrate on the local impact of spending on health and education and tailor its message to each constituency. Leaflets will be sent to homes in 200 key seats, including those Labour narrowly missed out on in 1997 and those they narrowly won, claiming the Tories want patients to pay for non-urgent operations.

The new approach marks a significant shift in tactics and follows criticism by some ministers of the Government's habit of "talking telephone numbers" when it comes to spending. It also follows Gordon Brown's decision in his spending review last month not to use the "double counting" technique that had allowed the Opposition to claim Labour was spinning the figures.

Mr Milburn unveiled a new poster claiming that the Tories' spending guarantee meant they would cut £16bn from public services and wipe out extra doctors, nurses and hospital investment promised in the recent NHS National Plan.

The poster, which will travel to the key seats, shows scissor cut-out marks around three of seven NHS workers, with the slogan: "Tory health policy. Cut here, cut there, cut everywhere."

Mr Milburn said the new campaign proved Labour was not interested in United States-style "presidential politics" and was switching to a localised approach.

"Lots of people don't know the difference between one million and one billion. What they do know about is whether there is a new roof on their local school or a new A&E department in their hospital," he said. "I believe this is the way we are heading now in political campaigning, localising our policies, getting across what they mean to each town and city."

In an attempt to personalise the summer health campaign, leaflets will also be distributed in William Hague's constituency and that of the Tory Health spokesman, Liam Fox.

One leaflet claims that Mr Hague's seat in Richmond, North Yorkshire, will benefit from a modernised casualty department. Some 43,000 extra people in North Yorkshire will get free eye tests this year, and 20,200 more people will be registered with NHS dentists, it adds.

The Tories pledged on Monday that they would launch their own summer offensive against the Government by sending out leaflets quoting Mr Blair's recently leaked memo.

Mr Milburn said he wanted to contrast the "real facts" of the NHS spending with the "froth and fantasy" of the Tories' own campaign. "William Hague may try to claim the mantle of compassionate Conservatism, but how can he do that when his spending cuts guarantee will tear the heart out of the NHS?"

However, Dr Fox rejected the criticisms and stressed that the Tories would match Labour's spending on health and would not privatise the NHS. He said: "Alan Milburn thinks that these cheap tactics trick people into believing that he and Tony Blair are putting right the damage which everyone knows they themselves have inflicted on the NHS.

"The British people accept that distortion and deception are Tony Blair's tools in trade. Patients and medical staff will see Alan Milburn's claims about tory health plans in exactly the same light."

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