David Cameron Launches Conservative Manifesto

David Cameron

(Guardian) – DAVID CAMERON launched the Conservative election manifesto today with a direct appeal to “working people” who feel abandoned by Labour and idealists who would be disappointed by the Liberal Democrats.

In the symbolic setting of Battersea power station, which is set to be the focus of a regeneration project, the Tory leader cast himself as a unifying national figure and said his party had abandoned its unpopular recent past.

“In every area, on every issue, our modern Conservative values are clear,” Cameron said in a lengthy speech on a platform in front of his shadow cabinet, who sat among young supporters.

“No more narrow focus on a few issues. No more harking back to bygone days.”

Cameron, who needs to secure the biggest swing to his party since 1931 to win a parliamentary majority of just one, said the Tories could now appeal beyond their core support.

“We stand for the working people that Labour has abandoned with their jobs tax and their waste,” he said. “We stand for the idealists that the Liberal Democrats will inevitably disappoint because they cannot win this race.”

The Tories – who need to gain 116 seats to form a government – hope the central pitch of the party’s manifesto will win back middle Britain voters who have abandoned them over the past decade.

Cameron summed up his “big society” theme, which will involve the most extensive devolution of power in a generation, by issuing an invitation to the British people to join him in governing the country.

“Manifestos, policies, acts of parliament – all these things are powerful, but not as powerful as acts of people,” he said, warning that Britain could only deal with its debts and broken society if people joined together.

“We can restore faith in our shattered political system. But only if millions of people are fired up and inspired to play a part in the nation’s future.

“Yes, it is an invitation to the whole nation: we’ll give you the power, so you can take control … Let’s make this the biggest call to arms the country has seen in a generation.”

The Tory leader quoted John F Kennedy’s famous challenge to the American people in his 1961 inaugural address.

“As a great American president once said: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.’ So, ask what you can do for your country – and, yes, for your family and for your community too.”

In a sign of the impact of the US on Tory thinking, Cameron used the opening words of the US constitution, “we, the people”, as a refrain in his speech as he challenged both the left and the right.

“It’s time to say to Labour: it’s not about you, the government. It’s about we, the people. And it’s time to say to those who think it’s all about unchecked individualism: no, it’s not about me, the individual. It’s about we, the people.”

Cameron served notice that life under a Tory government would not be easy.

He said responsibility would be placed “at the heart of our national life”, leading to two major changes – a more responsible approach to tackling Britain’s record £167bn fiscal deficit and greater responsibility in tackling social breakdown.

“When I am asked questions about the budget deficit and about spending, I am very frank with people and I do say: ‘Yes we are going to increase health spending by more than inflation, but that is not as much as recent years and it will mean we have to be efficient and effective in the way we run the health service,’ he said.

“I do say to people [that] there are difficult decisions we have made about asking people to retire a year earlier, from 2016, about not paying some of the benefits to families earning over £50,000.

“We have said these difficult things because I do want us to take the country with us in dealing with the budget deficit … I think the public have heard that from the Conservatives, they know we get it, they know we understand what a deep hole the country is in and difficult decisions have to be made.

“I think we are in a much better place than any other party because we were more straightforward more quickly about what needed to be done.”

The 130-page manifesto appeared, as the Guardian reported, as a hardback book.

It contained familiar policies to devolve power, such as allowing voters to hold a referendum on any local issue if they could win the support of 5% of the local population.

The Tories also issued a second document, entitled the Road to the Manifesto. This was designed to show that the manifesto was the result of four and half years work since Cameron became the Tory leader in late 2005.

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BNP Joins UKIP In Providing Spink Parties Their Votes

CASTLE POINT RESIDENTS will be unable to vote for United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) or British National Party (BNP) candidates in the local Borough Council elections on May 6th. Both parties have decided to leave the field clear for Spink’s Independent Save Our Green Belt Party on the mainland – and Spink’s Canvey Island Independent Party (CIIP) on the island.

Local nominations closed on the 8th April.

Canvey Island wards are all three horse races between CIIP, Conservative and Labour candidates.

Those standing on the island are as follows (asterisked candidates are seeking re-election):-

Canvey Island Central Ward

  • Daniel Curtis (Labour)
  • *Peter James May (Canvey Island Independent Party)
  • Stewart Topley (Conservative)

Canvey Island East Ward

  • Alan Curtis (Labour)
  • James Lee Parkin (Conservative)
  • John Albert Payne (Canvey Island Independent Party)

Canvey Island North Ward

  • *Nick Harvey (Canvey Island Independent Party)
  • Pat Haunts (Conservative)
  • John Payne (Labour)

Canvey Island South Ward

  • Katie Curtis (Labour)
  • Mark John Howard (Conservative)
  • *Joan Margaret Elizabeth Liddiard (Canvey Island Independent Party)

Canvey Island West Ward

  • Bill Deal (Labour)
  • Jane Elizabeth King (Canvey Island Independent Party)
  • Colin Alan MacLean (Conservative)

Canvey Island Winter Gardens Ward

  • Richard Bender (Conservative)
  • *Peter Greig (Canvey Island Independent Party)
  • Maggie McArthur-Curtis (Labour)

Rebecca Replies…

Dear Julian,

Thank you for kicking this off, and thank you to Ted for giving us this platform. 

I agree that the expenses scandal did untold damage to public confidence in politics. I think the solution was making MPs with questionable claims pay them back and then moving to a wholly transparent system of pay and conditions. I don’t see how changes to the voting system will do anything to improve public confidence and it could even make matters worse.

Members of Parliament have two distinct roles. First, implementing national policy and holding the Government to account. The second is as the representative of their constituency at Westminster, a role the public really value. Moving to any system of proportional representation as the Government proposes, damages the links between MPs and their constituents, making the voters less powerful and the Party bosses more so.

The AV system you personally advocate is an odd compromise by keeping some MPs constituency-based and others elected on a “Regional List”.  It’s not actually properly proportional but it creates two different types of MP. 

The real issue is weak government.  PR leads to more small single issue parties each fighting to get their say.  I can’t see how all the resulting horse-trading behind closed doors to get a deal will bring politicians’ into higher esteem. 

Like you, I support a modernised House of Lords with a majority of elected members, but also maintaining some appointed members. I do not think we should lose those peers with the expertise and stature – many of them “Cross-benchers” – of people like ex-M15 Head, Eliza Manningham-Buller or some of our ex military chiefs, just because they were not willing to turn their lives upside down to run for election like us.

Better than either of the plans however are David Cameron’s plans to reduce the cost of Government altogether, by reducing the number of MPs, Ministers and Ministerial salaries.  I’d also like to see the huge number of powers currently exercised by expensive and unaccountable quangos transferred to local communities and MPs.

I know you’ve advocated electoral reform for many years, but I think the public may feel cynical about a party that’s become interested in changing the voting system after 13 years in power, just when they look like they could lose.

Proposing a referendum on the voting system when it’s not a public priority smacks of cynicism – especially when the Government didn’t stick to their promise of a referendum on the important issue of whether or not the UK should sign up to the Lisbon Treaty.

I don’t advocate lowering the voting age to 16. Many 16 year olds are probably quite capable of exercising this right sensibly, but there has to be a starting age at some point and I think 18 is about right. When I was 16 I certainly considered myself old enough to make decisions that affected me, but I am not so sure I was ready to make decisions that affected others, which is what voting is. Currently, too few in the 18 to 24 age group vote and it would be better to try to raise those numbers.

Overall, I think we can agree that it is time to clean up Parliament and make Government more efficient and accountable and this election gives us a chance for a fresh start. As always though, there are ranging views on how best to achieve it. I am grateful that we can have this exchange in the open and welcome further such correspondence.

Sincerely,

Rebecca

… (Julian Ware-Lane, 18/03/2010) – Julian Says…

Cameron ‘Losing battle for liberal votes’

(Independent) – DAVID CAMERON has hit a “glass ceiling” in support and needs to do more to convince liberal voters to back his rebranded Tory party, a senior member of his team has admitted.

Ken Clarke, the shadow Business Secretary, said securing a clear majority would be a “tall order” for his party as the polls continued to close. “So many seats have to change hands,” he said. “We have got to get through the glass ceiling by winning over more liberals.”

He said the expenses scandal had left people deeply cynical about the pledges made by politicians, making it difficult for Mr Cameron to create the wave of enthusiasm for change that delivered Labour a landslide victory in 1997.

“I don’t think the public are prepared to have heroes again and it’s difficult to enthuse people,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. However, he said he would battle to push his party’s support above 40 per cent in the polls, the figure seen as a crucial marker in delivering the Tories an overall majority. “I want to see a Government with a strong working majority,” he said, but added it “was not a crisis” that Labour had performed well in recent polls.

Mr Clarke also moved to shore up the position of George Osborne after Mr Cameron said he would sack the shadow Chancellor if needed. Asked how he would respond if offered the job of Chancellor, Mr Clarke said: “I’d say, ‘Have you slightly lost your marbles? What’s wrong with George?’ I think he is quite obviously going to appoint George Osborne as Chancellor.”

He refused to rule out future tax rises from a Tory government, despite an apparent pledge by Mr Osborne yesterday to lower the new 50 per cent rate of income tax for high earners. Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, also refused to rule out tax hikes in this month’s Budget, despite assurances from the Treasury chief secretary, Liam Byrne, that no further rises would be needed to deliver Labour’s plan of halving Britain’s budget deficit over four years.

If You Are Listening, Ray: Rebecca Has An Idea…

Rebecca Harris (Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Conservative Party)

(Rebecca Harris) – I WAS DISMAYED by the proposal to close the older and more historic of Canvey’s tidal pools. 

We have already lost too much of our heritage and local character, and I would deeply regret losing any more – even if this wasn’t such a well used resource. Nor does the fact that we have a newer pool, which the Borough Council say they will improve with a crabbing area, lead me to think: “Oh; that’s alright then.” 

I also have a gut reaction against the words “Health and Safety”. (Although, as a mother, I don’t want to put my toddler at genuine risk however bloody-minded I might feel about the Nanny State). 

My personal view is that we should do everything we can to keep the pool operating as a part of Canvey’s history, somewhere young families can have a cheap day out, and a much-loved aspect of our sea-side. 

I have spoken to the councillors involved in the decision to try to understand what they were thinking. They all clearly came to the decision with real reluctance; several even became nostalgic about their own childhood memories of using the pool or having taken their children or grandchildren there. 

I think they were motivated by two factors, risk and future maintenance costs. I can understand that once councillors, or anyone else put in the same position, are told they may be responsible for serious risk to life – and in this case children’s lives – they  feel very reluctant to second guess expert findings and want to move fast to eliminate the danger. 

I can understand that. 

Due to the state of the public finances, councils are anticipating as much as a 10% funding cut from the current government. So they’re looking to make some tough decisions. Having decided the priority was refurbishing the Paddocks and Waterside and keeping them to a safe standard in future years, they thought they couldn’t afford two tidal pools too, with all the supposed legal risks attached. However, I still think this decision was short-sighted and rushed. 

They failed to make an assessment of the views of local residents and traders – or look into all the possible options. The electorate are no less capable of grasping the issues and deciding if this is something they care about enough to justify the costs to them, the taxpayer. 

Most of Britain’s old tidal pools have closed already over Health and Safety fears, which makes this 80 year old example even more special and valuable an asset for the Island. And anyone familiar with the pools will know that the older one is in fact by far the better of the two. If we could only have one, that would actually be the one to defend! 

I only got in to the Special Town Council Meeting on the pool late (there was a space problem), but I was glad I made it. I was put forward to speak by campaign leader Liz Swann, who knew I was against the closure. I’d emailed the Chairman earlier; but clearly too late for the message to reach the meeting that I’d obtained an assurance from Castle Point Council that they wouldn’t decommission the pool before allowing time for everyone to explore the options. 

This gives everyone a decent window of opportunity to get a “Second Opinion”. The facts can be fully reviewed. We need a proper understanding of the relative costs of maintaining the pool to what’s considered a modern safe standard, to check the quoted costs are accurate, and weigh them against the needs of Canvey as a tourist venue and the finances of our councils. 

Crucially, we can also look at other avenues for money such as Heritage Lottery Funding, which has helped some of Britain’s 1930’s lidos. There might be other ways to reduce the annual insurance costs in these litigious times too. 

The Borough Council have committed themselves to spending £50,000 to remove the pool and improve the beach. On their reckoning it would be only another eight thousand more to put it in good order in the first year, so it’s clearly not an immediate worry about money. But these works would be one-off capital expenditure; the worry is surely how they can find new money each year from a shrinking government grant, to prove to insurers that the pool is “safe”. 

Part of the original plans for the regeneration of Canvey were for the CoastWatch hut to be moved around from its current position near the Port of London Authority jetty to somewhere that they can also observe the beaches; but, as government cash has dried up, this plan is stuck on hold. 

But what if we could get grant money to make this happen again? With volunteers able to view the pool in daylight hours – and all year round – the ongoing insurance costs for both pools would be certain to fall dramatically. There would still be some annual physical maintenance costs to cope with (sea damage etc) but it could make the burden on council tax-payers much more manageable for either the Town or Borough Council. There is even an old lifeguard lookout on top of the Concord Cafe which might be used in the short-term if CoastWatch agreed. This would make the whole of Canvey seafront safer too. 

It still won’t spare local council tax-payers the risk of some drunken idiot breaking his neck there one night and suing us for £3 million, but insurance is about levels of risk and it might make that insurance risk more manageable. 

Maybe Ray Howard can do his usual conjuring trick of finding a pool of capital grant money from somewhere for CoastWatch? 

It might not solve the problem; but it must be worth a try…

Tories To Replace BBC Trust With ‘License-fee Payers’ Trust’

(Press Gazette) – A CONSERVATIVE GOVERNMENT would create a “licence fee payers’ trust” in place of the BBC Trust leading to the early departure of its chairman, Sir Michael Lyons – according to a report.

The Tory party would “act swiftly” to introduce a new body, answerable to licence fee payers, and create a new post of non-executive chairman to work alongside Mark Thompson, the director general, a senior party source told The Times.

The party believes changes could be carried out within the boundaries of the BBC’s royal charter and would give Thompson a “cheerleading chairman” and allow the new body to more effectively conduct a key role of representing the interests of those who pay £142.50 a year for the BBC’s services.

One senior Tory MP said: “We believe that these measures will lead to a change in the culture of the corporation’s governance, which will allow the trust to focus on holding the executive to account on behalf of licence fee payers.”

Any new structure is likely to speed up the departure of Lyons who has chaired the BBC Trust since soon after its creation in January 2007, the report claimed.

It states: “Conservative sources were adamant that the party would not try to force the chairman out, one senior MP told The Times that Sir Michael, whose term of office expires in April 2011, had intimated to the party that he would step down rather than face a fight with a newly elected government.”

A spokesman for the BBC Trust refused to confirm to The Times whether Lyons would continue if the Tories won the general election ahead of the expiration of his term of office.

A BBC spokesman said: “We are not going to comment on speculation. What matters to audiences is that they receive quality content and services from the BBC. To that end the trust and Sir Michael are getting on with the job of getting the best out of the BBC for licence-fee payers.”

Tory City-Based TV Franchise Plans Condemned By Lib Dems

(Press Gazette) – LIBERAL DEMOCRAT culture, media and sport spokesman Don Foster has criticised the conservative plan to scrap the Independently Funded News Consortia pilot scheme saying the Tories media policy could not be trusted.

Conservative shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt used his speech to the Oxford Media Convention yesterday to signal the Tories’ intention to torpedo plans for a system of IFNC to replace ITV news in the British regions with money possibly provided from part of the license fee.

Last night, Foster condemned the Tories vision to instead introduce a series of city-based TV franchises without any public support.

He said: “The Tories’ blind faith in the markets misses the point on media. It isn’t good enough to simply deregulate and hope the market will make everything better.

“If independent local and regional news providers are to survive they will require active support from Government.”

The Conservatives favour the deregulation of cross-media ownership rules at a local level as a way to foster development of local TV news services.

Hunt has also suggested yesterday the Tories would create space for a new national network to provide prime time viewing for local TV affiliates as a way of further reducing costs.

He said: “Let me be clear. We do not support these [IFNC] provisions in the Digital Economy Bill. And we do not support the pilot schemes.

“The contracts are not due to be signed until May. Anyone looking to sign one should understand that we’ll do all we can to legally unpick them if David Cameron enters Number 10. And if they haven’t been signed, we won’t be doing so.

“This is because we want to see the emergence of a radically different, improved and forward-looking local media sector.

“Not just local TV, where we are about the only major developed country not to have proper city-based TV franchises. But profitable, hungry and ambitious local radio, local newspapers and local websites as well.”