Election race begins

POLITICIANS were today beginning the formal general election campaign of 2005 after the official starting gun was fired by the Prime Minister.Tony Blair went to Buckingham Palace this morning to ask the Queen to dissolve parliament, within hours campaigning was starting throughout the country.

POLITICIANS were today beginning the formal general election campaign of 2005 after the official starting gun was fired by the Prime Minister.

Tony Blair went to Buckingham Palace this morning to ask the Queen to dissolve parliament, within hours campaigning was starting throughout the country.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who was born and brought up in Essex, was due in Harwich this afternoon to launch the campaign in East Anglia.

Harwich is a key marginal seat and Mr Straw was expected to use the visit to emphasise the importance of links with Europe for the local economy.


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Meanwhile Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy was flying into Norwich Airport to launch his party's regional campaign.

The Conservatives were also preparing a regional launch in Norwich with environment spokesman and South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo rallying their troops.

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Meanwhile backbench MPs have steeled themselves for three days of frenetic activity before parliament is formally dissolved.

Ipswich MP Chris Mole said he expected to be in London until late on Thursday while the government tries to get its legislation through the House of Commons.

He said: "The whips have told us that we will definitely be in the House all day on Tuesday and Wednesday and possibly most of Thursday.

"To a large extent that depends on how much the Lords try to amend what we pass - then we could have some parliamentary ping-pong."

The key legislation still waiting to be passed involves identity cards, and the proposed new law banning religious intolerance.

Parliament has to rise on Thursday. The parties have agreed there will be no campaigning on Friday, the day of the Pope's funeral, and there is unlikely to be any political activity on Saturday, when the royal wedding will now take place.

Parliament will be formally dissolved next Monday - and that is when most parties are expected to swing into full election mode.

Mr Mole said: "I'll be in London until Thursday night, and they'll be no campaigning on Friday because of the royal wedding.

"The campaign will probably start in earnest next Monday.

Conservative Paul West said his campaign had effectively started more than a year ago, but the tempo would be stepped up now that the election had been called.

He said: "We shall be pounding the streets putting our message across from now on - and getting our leaflets out to people."

Liberal Democrat challenger Richard Atkins said his team was ready for the general election battle.

He said: "It is strange that all other elections in this country are on a set day and these elections are held at the whim of the prime minister - but we're all ready for the campaign."

Nominations for the election have to be handed in to the returning officer by 4pm on Tuesday, April 19.

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