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Blair Assembles Cabinet

May 8, 2001

LONDON (AP) _ On the brink of a widely expected general election campaign, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Cabinet gathered at Downing Street and a government minister later said Blair’s Labor Party would not take any vote for granted.

News reports said Blair likely would call an election on Tuesday, after an audience with Queen Elizabeth II, who is consulted about the balloting date.

Conservative opposition leader William Hague, apparently undaunted by Blair’s strong lead in opinion polls, said Monday, ``We are planning for victory; we are ready to win.″

As ministers streamed out of Downing Street after their meeting Monday, they refused to comment on an election date. But Health Secretary Alan Milburn made clear what they had been discussing.

``We will fight this campaign, whenever it comes, as if it were on a knife edge,″ Milburn said. ``We are not going to take a single vote for granted.″

Blair’s Labor Party, which won power in a 1997 landslide, is heavily favored to win a new election. The most recent surveys gave Blair a lead of nearly 20 points over Hague’s Conservatives.

Labor has made clear it is not complacent and is aware of the need to fight against voter apathy if it is to be sure of winning a second term.

Blair’s official spokesman Alastair Campbell said the prime minister had told his Cabinet colleagues to ``forget the polls and commentators, this is going to be a far tougher fight than people imagine. ... We have to earn every single piece of support.″

The expected election date had been May 3. But in early April, during a spiraling outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, the government postponed local elections and refrained from calling national ones.

Blair has signaled in recent days he is prepared to go ahead with a date of June 7, including his declaration last week that the battle against foot-and-mouth disease _ harmless to humans but devastating to the agricultural sector _ was in the home stretch.

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