Tackling Slump Holds Key to Victory; ECONOMICS ANALYSIS

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Byline: Hugo Duncan

THE economy will take centre stage in what looks set to be the most fiercely contested General Election battle for a generation.

Gordon Brown today said Britain will go to the polls on 6 May after the longest and deepest recession since the Second World War.

Gross domestic product fell 6.2% during the 18-month slump, thousands of businesses collapsed, and hundreds of thousands of workers lost their jobs.

The economy finally started growing again in the final quarter of 2009 but expansion of 0.4% was hardly spectacular and all three major parties know the recovery is fragile.

The most pressing issue facing whoever wins power is to reduce Britain's record debts through spending cuts and tax rises, while at the same time securing the recovery and creating jobs. A key date in the election campaign is 23 April when output figures for the first quarter of 2010 are published.

Here are the economic issues the three main parties will focus on between now and polling day: LABOUR The Prime Minister kicked off the election campaign today as he means to carry on.

"The people have fought too hard to get Britain on the road to recovery to allow anybody to take us back to the road to recession," he said in a direct attack on the Tories.

It is a theme Labour will return to time and again.

Brown and Co will say they made the "right calls" during the financial crisis and recession.

Unemployment has not risen as much as in previous recessions, fewer families have lost their homes, and more businesses have stayed afloat.

Labour has pledged to more than halve the deficit over four years, from 11.8% of gross domestic product last year and 11.1% this year to 5.2% in 2013-14 with the squeeze starting next year rather than now.

Brown and Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling will urge voters to back their "judgment" in handling future difficult decisions on tax and spending.

They will insist the Tories were "wrong" during the downturn and are "wrong again" about the recovery and that only Labour can be trusted with the economy. …