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Brown casts doubt over an early election

SENIOR politicians were busy drawing battle lines at the weekend after the New Year heralded the start of the general election campaign proper for the major parties.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was confident "there will be a Labour Budget this spring", casting doubt over the likelihood of the party calling an early election, though he was adamant he would not be "boxed in" over a specific date.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, Brown attacked Tory plans for swift and brutal cuts to the burgeoning government deficit, claiming that Labour is the only party equipped to "take the country from recession to growth".

"I believe in an age of aspiration, opportunity and prosperity," he added. "I'm afraid the Conservatives have gone for an age of austerity."

The Prime Minister's remarks came after shadow business secretary Ken Clarke hinted in a newspaper interview at future tax rises under a Tory government, continuing along David Cameron's well-trodden hard line on repairing the UK's finances.

"It would be folly to start ruling out increases in taxation if it turns out to be extremely difficult to get public spending under control rapidly enough," he said. "If you can't get it down quickly enough in order to maintain the confidence of the markets and to create conditions for growth and employment then you may have to look at tax increases."

Clarke previously showed himself unafraid to put up taxes when, as chancellor, he was tasked with bringing the UK out of its last recession in the early 1990s.

Clarke also admitted that education may be hit by sweeping public sector cuts proposed by the Tories.

"I don't think you can exempt education...from the need for a review, because there are always better ways of doing things and better value for money," he said.