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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Labour's Blair Vows to Rise Above Election Sleaze

LONDON -- British opposition leader Tony Blair vowed Monday to rise above the sleaze that has dominated Britain's election campaign and said the country deserves better than the ruling Conservatives have given it for nearly 18 years.

"I do not want this election fought on negative issues. I want it fought on the policies that we offer to the people of our country," the Labour Party leader told supporters as he launched a new poster campaign.

"Britain deserves better," he said, echoing the slogan with which Labour will fight the May 1 election.

While the Conservatives took the day off at the end of a weekend dominated by the resignation of Sir Michael Hirst, chairman of the Scottish Conservatives, over claims he had had a homosexual lover and calls for two other members of parliament to step down, Labour pounded home its message.

With his party enjoying a 20-point lead in opinion polls, Blair said Labour would divert ?100 million ($163 million) in the country's national health service from administration costs. He promised safer streets, smaller classes in schools, low interest and mortgage rates and no income tax increases for the life of the next parliament.

Earlier Monday, Blair dismissed Conservative allegations that a Labour government would dismantle trade union laws and said "strikes without ballots, the closed shop and all the rest" were things of the past. "The essential trade elements of the trade union legislation of the 1980s will remain," he wrote in The Times newspaper.

Blair was not alone in his quest for more positive issues. The Conservatives were also trying to change tracks and refocus their campaign.

After party members' failure to convince former minister Neil Hamilton and MP Piers Merchant that it was time to go, there were signs Monday of a party climbdown after both insisted on staying.

Major had hinted in a letter commending Hirst for stepping down for the good of the party that Hamilton and Merchant should do the same.