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Prime Minister John Major promised a policy of "wealth and welfare" as he opened the Conservative Party's campaign on Saturday in a hard-fought race he termed the "Battle of Britain."

The opposition Labor Party, launching its own campaign, accused the governing Conservatives of "doing down Britain."Major, who announced the April 9 election date earlier in the week, made his first public campaign speech in southern England, the heart of his party's support.

"Wherever wealth can be created, there we will be. Wherever care must be given, there we will be," Major told 1,500 cheering party activists. "That's the Conservative philosophy - wealth and welfare, hand in hand."

Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock launched the opposition campaign a day earlier in Scotland, strong Labor territory.

On Saturday, Labor's treasury spokesman, John Smith, accused Major of offering failed policies.

"We are told that if we dare complain, we are somehow talking down Britain," Smith said at a party rally. "Don't accuse us of talking down Britain until you stop doing down Britain."

The Conservatives are making taxes a key campaign issue, and this week they rushed through legislation to lower the tax from 20 percent to 25 percent on the first $3,400 of income.

Major's pairing of "wealth and welfare" was in tune with a gentler Conservative line.

Labor, running hard against the government's economic record - including 9.2 percent unemployment and record home repossessions - has said it will rescind the tax cut.

Smith said his party's priorities are to increase pension and child benefits, introduce a legally enforceable minimum wage, invest in the manufacturing industry and improve education and job training.

A Harris poll published Saturday showed Labor with 40 percent support, the Tories with 39 percent and the centrist Liberal Democratic Party with 16 percent.

An ICM poll for the Sunday Express came up with identical figures. Both polls, based on interviews with more than 1,000 adults, had a margin of error of 3 percent.