Today The Birmingham Post challenges the political parties to put the real needs of the West Midlands at the heart of the General Election campaign.

We are publishing our Manifesto for the Midlands, posing the questions we want to see answered before the region goes to the polls on May 5.

We want to know how the parties would improve our schools and hospitals, what they plan for the region's road and rail network, and whether they take the problem of gun crime seriously.

And as the fate of MG Rover hangs in the balance, we want to know how the politicians would support manufacturers and promote the high-skilled industry the region desperately needs.

The West Midlands will play a key role in this election. If Tony Blair can hang on to the seats his party won here in 1997, his grip on power will be safe.

It is a mark of the region's importance that party leaders Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy have already made electioneering visits, while Labour has sent Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary.

And Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt have all been to Birmingham to meet Rover workers.

But if the politicians want our votes, they must address the specific issues facing the region.

Our Manifesto for the Midlands is published as the parties set out their plans in a series of national manifesto launches.

But Labour was accused today of running scared of the Rover crisis by reportedly scrapping plans to launch its manifesto in Birmingham.

The document will be published at a London venue today.

It had been widely believed at Westminster that Labour was planning to launch it at a high- profile rally in Birmingham.

Caroline Spelman, Conservative shadow Secretary of State for Local Government, said: "People in Birmingham will feel very let down that Labour have pulled out of Birmingham for party political reasons.

"Rather than just thinking about himself, and how he will look in the news, Mr Blair should be thinking about the people of Birmingham.

"Just because the people of Birmingham have suffered a blow with the problems at MG

Rover, that is no reason for Tony Blair to avoid them."

But a Labour spokeswoman said: "This is total rubbish. It shows just how totally opportunistic the Tories are.

"At no stage was it going to be in Birmingham, as we had the launch here during the last election. They are trying to make capital out of a very serious situation."

The Liberal Democrats are to reveal their own proposals at the end of the week. Their launch was due to take place yesterday, but was delayed by the arrival of Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy's first child.

Mr Kennedy's wife Sarah gave birth to Donald James

Kennedy at 12.14 am in London's St Thomas' Hospital.

Conservative leader Michael Howard published his party's plans on Monday.

Labour went on the attack yesterday, as Mr Blair and Mr Brown said the Tories were "an absolute mess" and represented an "economic risk" to the country.

The Prime Minister and his Chancellor claimed Tory plans for tax cuts of £4 billion threatened interest rate rises and put the country's economic stability at risk.

But Conservative shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin insisted his proposals were costed and deliverable.