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31 March 2010

Exclusive: Election to be announced on Tuesday

Easter weekend will be the calm before the storm.

By James Macintyre

Gordon Brown is preparing to call the general election this coming Tuesday, 6 April, making way for a month-long campaign, culimating in polling day on 6 May, Newstatesman.com has learned from several sources.

Confirmation that the announcement will come two days after Easter contradicts speculation that rail strikes planned for that day — which government insiders now expect to be deferred — would cause a delay in the announcement, possibly until as late as the week after next.

Cabinet ministers who will feature prominently in the campaign from the outset include David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, and Ed Miliband, the Climate Change and Energy Secretary, who is devising the party’s manifesto.

Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, will, according to one source, “provide the answer to the Tories’ claims of ‘broken Britain’ “, and is seen as “a good communicator and a contrast against the Etonian and Bullingdon elements within the Tory leadership”. Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, and Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, will visit hospitals and schools during the campaign, while Andrew Adonis, the Transport Secretary, is expected to promote high-speed rail. Harriet Harman, the Labour deputy leader, will be rallying activists around the country.

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Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, and Yvette Cooper, the Work and Pensions Secretary, will be ever-present during a campaign that will be dominated by the economy.

Peter Mandelson, the Business Secretary, will remain a prominent “voice” on the airwaves for the party, while Douglas Alexander, the International Development Secretary, who will be leading campaign strategy, will largely anchor the party’s headquarters in Victoria Street, London. The articulate minister is expected to “firefight” stories as they emerge in the media, however. Labour MPs say that there was strong unity at a behind-the-scenes session with Alexander last night, at which the prevalent mood was one of “optimism”.

Meanwhile, insiders across the party are pleased with the intervention of Tony Blair this week, which one described as a “test run”. The former prime minister is now exepected to make several other key appearances, including at least one with Brown on the campaign trail.

Questions remain over who the Conservatives are likely to “put up” for media and public appearances during their campaign. Tory sources confirm that George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, is viewed by some at the top of the party as a “liability”, while William Hague, the influential shadow foreign secretary, is seen to have been badly damaged by the Michael Ashcroft affair. Instead, Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, is expected to play a prominent role alongside Cameron himself.

For a broad election timetable, see here.