U.K.’s Politicians Begin May Election Campaign With Attacks

The road to Britain’s general election began as it always does, with all sides announcing they’ll fight a positive campaign and then immediately attacking their opponents.

Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said the choice for voters is “competence versus chaos.” Opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said the Tories had put the country on “the road to nowhere.”

The messages are unchanged from recent months, but the politicians will be trusting that with the election just four months away, voters are now paying attention. Polls suggest that neither side has convinced many beyond their core voters, and that the likeliest outcome is another hung Parliament in which neither main party has a majority, this time with Labour narrowly ahead.

“I’m working for a majority Labour government,” Miliband told reporters after a rally in Manchester, the main city in northern England. “This contest has only just begun. The phony war is over, and now we’re into the real guts of this contest.”

Osborne, who has refused to let the Office for Budget Responsibility audit opposition spending plans, instead produced costings generated by his Treasury officials for what he said were Labour policies. The chancellor told a news conference in London they added up to 20.7 billion pounds ($32 billion) of spending commitments that would have to be funded by debt.

‘False Assumptions’

Labour disputed Osborne’s statement that the proposals in the document -- entitled “A Cost Analysis of Labour Party Policy” -- represented its plans and said that, simply because the party attacked a government spending cut, it didn’t mean it plans to reverse it should Labour win power.

Labour’s finance spokesman, Ed Balls, said the paper was “riddled with untruths” and based on “false assumptions.” For example, Tory attacks on a call to ban food waste from landfill were based on an out-of-date quote from 2013, according to Labour.

Osborne said the document was based on “perfectly reasonable assumptions,” with Tory officials saying it reflected recent comments made by Labour since the party pledged to exercise “iron discipline” on public finances.

Miliband reiterated one of Labour’s key election strategies, the accusation that Conservative spending cuts would put an end to Britain’s National Health Service.

“The Tories have damaged the NHS in these five years,” he said. “Give them five more and the NHS as we know it just won’t be there.”

Third Way

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg tried to make the case that only his Liberal Democrat party could be trusted to keep the other two honest.

“In the same way that we provide heart to a Conservative Party that sometimes seems a little bit bereft of that particular political organ, we’d also provide spine to a Labour Party that seems bereft of the necessary steel to deal with the economy,” Clegg told reporters in London. “The Labour Party wouldn’t look after your money and the Conservatives wouldn’t look after public services.”

The Liberal Democrats, never in power until forming a coalition with the Tories in 2010, had been used to gaining support during election campaigns, as the media gave them extra attention. Now after nearly five years in the limelight, they may instead find themselves squeezed; Clegg’s press conference today took place between the rival Labour and Tory events.

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