The countdown to the election

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Indy Politics
John Major will go to Buckingham Palace this morning to ask the Queen for a dissolution of Parliament to trigger the general election on 1 May.

There is expected to be a White House-style press conference in the garden of 10 Downing Street for Mr Major to announce his plans to the nation, followed by a statement to the Commons later in the day.

Then hard bargaining begins over the Bills which have yet to receive Royal Assent. The only one likely to cause trouble is the Home Office Bill on minimum sentences, softened by Labour peers, which the Government is determined to overturn. If Jack Straw, the shadow home secretary, refuses to allow it to be changed and nodded through, the Tories will accuse Labour of being soft on crime.

Once the horse-trading is over, the House of Commons will rise on 25 or 26 March, after a Labour-initiated debate, and the last session of Prime Minister's Questions, for a short recess for Easter. The dissolution of Parliament could take place a week earlier than expected, on or just after 1 April, because the Tories believe they will have a better chance of closing the Labour lead with a longer campaign to target their attack on Tony Blair.

The Major campaign bus could start rolling on 2 April with seven campaign rallies before polling day - the first on 4 April at the Royal Albert Hall, scene of the Union flag extravaganza on the last night of the Proms.