LABOUR took the gloves off and claimed "ridiculous" Liberal Democrat policies would send crime soaring as the battle intensified to halt Nick Clegg's growing popularity.
Justice Secretary Jack Straw claimed Lib Dem tax policies "don't add up" and their opposition to nuclear power would cost jobs in the region as he launched Labour's Yorkshire Manifesto in Leeds.
Mr Straw later campaigned in Lib Dem-held Leeds North West, as did Tory schools spokesman Michael Gove who admitted it was a "volatile landscape" but warned only a Tory vote would guarantee "strong government at a difficult time".
But Greg Mulholland, who is defending Leeds North West for the Lib Dems, accused Mr Straw of merely talking tough and said it was the Lib Dems who were promising more police on the beat.
Last night a new poll of 895 voters in the region showed the Lib Dems have moved up five points to 25 per cent over the past week, with Labour down two on 34 per cent and the Tories down one on 33 per cent.
The scores – in a poll by YouGov for PoliticsHome website – mean Labour is down ten points in the region compared with the last general election with the Tories and Lib Dems each up four, leaving more than a dozen Labour seats vulnerable. Meanwhile a national ICM poll for the Guardian put the Lib Dems in second place behind the Conservatives.
Mr Straw made his attack as he was joined by Yorkshire Minister Rosie Winterton for the manifesto launch at Leeds Metropolitan University, highlighting pledges relevant to the region such as a high-speed rail line, support for regional development agency Yorkshire Forward, and backing for new jobs in green industries.
Claiming the Tories would put pensioner benefits at risk – something David Cameron has explicitly denied – Mr Straw then set his sights on the Lib Dems, accusing them of being a "new tin with a new brand" but with the same contents inside.
"In Leeds people know a lot of what's inside the tin because the Lib Dems have been backing the Conservatives, following Conservative policies here in Leeds but many of their policies frankly don't add up," he said.
"Raising the tax threshold to 10,000 is a bit like going into McDonald's and ordering Lobster Thermidor – very nice to have but not on the menu. We can all go around doing that but it doesn't work."
He saved his strongest words for plans to stop giving out jail terms of under six months in favour of tough community sentences.
"One thing I could guarantee if the Lib Dems were in any form of power is that crime would rise," he said. "Look in the tin not on the label – they're proposing to ban all courts from imposing any prison sentence of less than six months."
He said magistrates only handed out prison sentences when they had tried other options and claimed the Lib Dems would send "young thugs" back into the community even when other punishments had failed.
"In my area I know where I've got these young criminals who, when all the other options have run out there, they're locked up. It gives a respite to the community, gives the police a chance to make a new assessment, and yes they might go to prison but they're less likely to do it again.
"What the Liberal Democrats are proposing would lead to a rise in crime, increase in anti-social behaviour and here in Leeds and Yorkshire it will also lead over time to a loss of jobs in the prison service. It's frankly ridiculous."
Mr Straw's outburst came after a weekend when Welsh Secretary Peter Hain had appeared to woo the Lib Dems by stressing the "common ground" between the parties.
But Mr Mulholland said: "The simple reality is that after 13 years of a Labour government we've had much posturing on crime and yet violent crime continues to rise.
"We've had enough talking tough. What we need is real action to cut crime and that's exactly what the Lib Dems are offering with our package to put 3,000 more police on the street."