And they’re off... Cameron kick-starts election campaign with tax hike jibe

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THE QUEEN has held a private audience with the Prime Minister as the General Election campaign begins.

Prime Minister David Cameron met with the Queen at Buckingham Palace before heading to Downing Street to address the nation.

The sun rises behind the Palace of Westminster and the statue of Sir Winston Churchill, as one of the most closely-contested general elections for decades formally gets under way

The sun rises behind the Palace of Westminster and the statue of Sir Winston Churchill, as one of the most closely-contested general elections for decades formally gets under way

Mr Cameron said that the May 7 poll offered voters a “stark choice” between him and Ed Miliband as prime minister, and warned that a Labour victory would deliver “economic chaos” and tax hikes of more than £3,000 for the average family.

He said: “Five years ago, when I walked through that black door, millions of people were unemployed, there was no economic security for families and there were worries about whether our country could pay its debts. Britain was on the brink.

“Five years later, because of our long-term economic plan and the difficult decisions we have taken, we have more people in work than ever in our history, living standards are on the rise and Britain is more economically secure.”

Mr Cameron added: “After five years of effort and sacrifice, Britain is on the right track. This election is about moving forward and as Prime Minister here at Number 10 Downing Street, that is what I will deliver.”

I accept I have a task in the next 41 days to win back people...

David Cameron

Meanwhile, Mr Miliband warned that the referendum on EU membership promised by Mr Cameron if the Tories win power represents “a clear and present danger to British jobs, British business, British families and British prosperity”.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg - who followed the PM to the Palace in his role as president of the Privy Council - predicted another hung Parliament, saying: “It’s my view that the era of single-party government is over in British politics.”

With the majority of polls still showing the two established Westminster parties running neck and neck - and one at the weekend giving Labour a four-point lead - increasingly bitter blows are being traded over the implications for public spending and tax in each of their deficit reduction plans.

As the election campaign got under way in earnest, Conservatives released calculations which they claimed show that every working household’s tax bill could rise by £3,028 a year if Labour returns to power.

Prime Minister David Cameron. Pic: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Prime Minister David Cameron. Pic: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The calculation is based on comments made by Mr Miliband in 2010, before he became Labour leader, which Tories claim indicate that he would favour using an equal mix of spending cuts and taxes to balance the books.

Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie said: “These are totally made-up figures from a desperate David Cameron who has raised taxes on working people.”

While Tories claim they will eliminate the deficit without tax rises, by cutting back on welfare benefits and public spending and cracking down on tax avoidance, Labour has said taxation will play a part in its effort to balance the current budget by 2020.

Labour is committed to restoring the top 50p rate of income tax for salaries over £150,000, but shadow chancellor Ed Balls has ruled out raising national insurance, the main rate of VAT or the basic or higher rates of income tax.

Mr Leslie said: “Under the Tories, families have lost over £1,100 a year on average from tax and benefit changes, while millionaires have been given a huge tax cut.

“Labour will reverse the Tory tax cut for millionaires and cut taxes for millions on middle and low incomes through a lower 10p starting rate of income tax.”

Ukip leader Nigel Farage brushed off the UK Independence Party’s recent dip in the polls, insisting that he expects to win “a good number of seats” at Westminster on May 7.

Mr Farage - who will set out his party’s key election pledge laters - said any Ukip MPs elected to Parliament would see it as their job to ensure that the referendum on Britain’s EU membership promised by Mr Cameron for 2017 is not “kicked into the long grass”.

“Our job in the next parliament would be to hold his feet to the fire, to make sure that the referendum is not a stitch-up,” the Ukip leader told ITV1’s Good Morning Britain.

“I don’t want this to be kicked into the long grass until the end of 2017. I think it should be before the end of this year.”

Mr Clegg said Britain’s politics was in “real danger” of being dragged to the right or left at this election, and said his Liberal Democrats would aim to fill “the reasoned centre ground”.

While there were circumstances where a referendum should take place, the Liberal Democrats would never “play footsie” with the possibility of quitting the European Union, the Deputy Prime Minister said.

Mr Clegg told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “You see the Labour Party haring off to the left and sticking its head under the sand and not dealing with the deficit. You see the Conservatives chasing after Ukip on the right, indulging in plans for ideological plans for cuts to public services.

“I think there is a real space in this campaign, which I obviously hope the Liberal Democrats will fill, for the reasoned centre ground.”

Meanwhile, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett launched an appeal to voters who are “sick of business-as-usual politics and desperate for change”, promising that her party would offer “a real alternative to the politics and economics espoused by establishment politicians for decades”.

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