Pandering to heartlands would catch Labour in the 'Tory Trap', says Brown

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Gordon Brown told the Cabinet yesterday he would be laying out a campaign strategy to woo the middle classes in the run-up to the general election.

The Chancellor, who will lead the campaign with Peter Mandelson, told cabinet colleagues at a Chequers summit that switching the focus to Labour's heartlands would lead the Government into a "Tory trap". A ministerial source said: "The Budget demonstrated that we are delivering for the whole of Britain. We don't want to fall into the Tory trap of locking Labour into focusing on the Labour heartlands.

"We have to keep the coalition of middle and lower income earners that helped us win the last election."

Mr Brown rejected the criticism of the Government this week by the former minister Peter Kilfoyle, who has called for Labour to do more for its traditional supporters, and said Labour had to avoid alienating middle-income earners.

The meeting called by Tony Blair was held in private at his country retreat to lay the ground for the next Labour manifesto and the election campaign. The manifesto is expected to include a renewed commitment to a referendum on the reform of the voting system, despite strong opposition to proportional representation among some members of the Cabinet and Labour MPs.

Mr Blair and most ministers are content to continue with the pledge to "let the public decide" on a change in the voting system for future general elections, without making any commitment about supporting proportional representation (PR).

That should be enough to satisfy Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, who has warned he would break off co-operation with Labour if he failed to secure a pledge for a PR referendum.

The Cabinet is confident Labour can withstand attempts by the Tory leader, William Hague, to turn the election into a campaign to "save the pound" by sticking to the Government's policy of joining the euro after a referendum, only if the economic conditions are right.

Mr Brown told the ministers that Labour had to focus on the delivery of better public services, such as health and education. Echoing his remarks earlier this week to Labour's national executive committee, he contrasted the commitment to public services in the Budget with the Tory tax guarantee to reduce taxes. Mr Brown suggested a campaign slogan: "Strong public services for the many - cut taxes for the few."

A source said: "This is about a unifying vision that is tackling child poverty, helping people back into work, and supporting families.

"We have to build up the electoral coalition and demonstrate that you are delivering for the broad mass of people."

The manifesto is likely to propose the establishment of a department for rural affairs to answer criticism from the Countryside Alliance pressure group that the Government is ignoring rural communities. It could be a broad ministry, covering countryside and planning issues as well as agriculture.