THE chancellor of the exchequer defended Labour's national insurance hike on a visit to Rayners Lane today.

Alistair Darling pointed to other policies aimed at supporting businesses struggling through the economic downturn on a visit to Eastern Fire Sri Lankan restaurant, in Alexandra Avenue.

He highlighted the one year businesses rates holiday, due to start in October, and said Labour's record on employment would ensure customers have money to spend in shops.

He told the Harrow Times: “The best possible help we can give to small businesses is to make sure that as many people as possible stay in work because if they do they will spend money in local shops and businesses.

“One of the things we have been able to do over the last 18 months is keep unemployment much lower than it was in the 1980s.”

He said the Tories were planning £6bn cuts to public services which could not be made through efficiency savings alone.

When asked about the Lib Dems he said: “The election is two-and-a-half weeks away and we've always said it's all to play for.

“The choices we make over the next couple of years will determine what's to come for the next 10 or 20 years. There are a lot of battle ground seats where every vote counts.”

Mr Darling was helping Harrow West candidate Gareth Thomas campaign in the area.

Mr Thomas said he would push for a one hour free parking scheme in Rayners Lane, similar to the one in North Harrow.