GORDON Brown yesterday fired the starting pistol on a four-week election campaign ahead of polling day on 6 May.
The Prime Minister asked voters to give him a “clear and straightforward mandate” to secure the economic recovery and sent a rallying cry to Labour activists from the steps of 10 Downing Street.
“The future is within our grasp. It is a future fair for all. Now all of us, let’s go to it,” he said as he entered the political fight of his life and sought to secure Labour an unprecedented fourth term in government.
Tory leader David Cameron stole a march on Labour by launching his appeal to voters before Brown had returned from Buckingham Palace, where he asked the Queen to dissolve parliament next week.
Speaking on the banks of the Thames, Cameron styled himself as the candidate of change as he promised to fight the election for “the great ignored” – hardworking families that feel let down by Labour.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who could become kingmaker after the election if polls pointing to a hung parliament are correct, kept his options open by launching fierce attacks on both opponents.
He said the first day of the campaign was “the beginning of the end” of Brown, but also rubbished Tory plans to start cutting public spending immediately after the general election.
Brown kicked off the first day of campaigning by catching a high speed train to Kent, where he visited the Rochester branch of Wm Morrison and chatted to shop workers in the staff canteen.
Downing Street said the Prime Minister had pulled out of next week’s nuclear disarmament summit in the US, adding that foreign secretary David Miliband would attend instead.
Labour’s campaign managers decided that a photo opportunity with President Barack Obama was no match for three days of campaigning.
In a bid to highlight the Tory party’s pledge to increase spending on the National Health Service, Cameron made his first stop at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham. Later, he went to Leeds, underlining the fact that the Tories must win support outside of their South East heartlands if they are to take the election.
Sterling fell more than one per cent against the dollar as traders were spooked by the prospect a hung parliament, which could delay much-needed fiscal tightening following the general election.
Labour strategists admitted that Brown entered the campaign as the underdog, with most opinion polls showing the Tory lead widening once again.
Conservative sources said the campaign team was upbeat, with activists riding high on the back of positive reaction to the party’s pledge to scrap Labour’s hike in National insurance.
Opinion polls paint an unclear picture. Today’s YouGov daily tracker for the Sun has the Tories eight points clear of Labour on 40 per cent, down two on yesterday’s survey. But an ICM poll for The Guardian gives the Tories a narrower four point lead that would lead to a hung parliament.
TIMELINE | COUNTDOWN TO POLLING DAY
Gordon Brown formally announces the date of the general election.
● 6-8 April
“Wash up period”, where the government rushes through a handful of last-minute bills.
Parliament is adjourned.
● 12 April
Parliament is dissolved. All MPs lose their jobs until after the election.
● 15 April
ITV hosts first 90-minute-long leader debate, starting at 8.30pm.
● 20 April
Registration deadline for voters and prospective parliamentary candidates
● 22 April
Sky News’ Adam Boulton presents the second leaders’ debate at 9.30pm.
● 29 April
BBC hosts final prime ministerial debate at 8.30pm.
● 6 May
Election day. Polling stations open between 7am and 10pm.