Nick Clegg Launches Lib Dem Manifesto

(Guardian) – THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS today projected themselves as the only party that is telling the truth about the economy and promised to “hard-wire” fairness into British society.

At the last of three main party manifesto launches, the Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, accused Labour and the Conservatives of having “airbrushed the economy” from their election platforms.

Clegg said his party would claw back 10% of the £40bn lost to the exchequer through tax evasion every year, promising to deliver “the most radical, far-reaching tax reforms in a generation”.

Vince Cable, the party’s treasury spokesman, said the economy was the “elephant in the room” of the election campaign.

Within hours of the launch, at the headquarters of the Bloomberg financial information service in the City of London, Labour said the Lib Dems had underestimated their plan to raise personal tax allowances to £10,000 by £5bn.

The Tories said there was a £10bn “black hole” in the plans.

“All governments want to ensure that people and businesses are paying tax that it’s appropriate for them to be paying, but the Liberal Democrats are making significant claims about this which simply don’t stack up,” the shadow work and pensions secretary, Theresa May, told the BBC.

But the Lib Dems insisted they were fully costed, and said they were the only party being honest about the levels of forthcoming spending restraints.

Cable acknowledged he would have to find further savings to complete the process of getting the deficit under control.

“When you put that together, you’ve got total cuts of £10bn a year,” he said. “You might say: ‘Well that’s fine, but you’ve not solved the problem.'”

Cable said that, unlike Labour and the Conservatives, the Lib Dems admitted there would have to be deep cuts after the election.

Although the Lib Dems did not explicitly rule out income tax or VAT rises, Cable said the party’s plans did not require an increase in tax.

“We’re not advocating an increase in taxation,” he said. “British families and businesses are taxed enough already … but it is important that we have a sense of fairness and the solidarity behind that.”

In his speech, Clegg set out to portray the Lib Dems as the party of fairness, with a pledge that nobody would pay income tax on the first £10,000 of earnings.

The party leader said this would be worth £700 a year to millions of people on low and middle incomes, and would free 3.6 million people earning less than £10,000 from paying income tax at all.

Party sources rejected Labour’s suggestion that the policy was poorly costed, saying the Institute for Fiscal Studies would endorse the figures. “The Labour party are making three assumptions that are not true. They think we are also increasing the 40p rate as well as the £10,000 tax threshold, which we are not.

“They are also saying that we are increasing above £10,000 the higher rate of tax-free personal allowance that the over-65s currently get, but we are not. And they don’t acknowledge the fact that we are phasing out the tax free allowance for those on over £100,000.”

The party said its plans would be paid for by the proposals on tax avoidance, as well as a number of other cost-cutting measures. There will be a £400 pay rise cap for public sector workers, government payments into child trust funds would end, child tax credits worth £1.3bn for high earners would be cut, and the availability of winter fuel payments to younger pensioners would be reduced.

The Lib Dems would scrap ID cards and the national intercept database, cut the Eurofighter military jet contract, scale back the HomeBuy shared ownership scheme, reform regional development agencies and scrap seven quangos.

“The other parties have airbrushed the economy out of this election,” Clegg said.

“They are treating people like fools, imagining that manifestos barely fit for times of plenty are enough now. We will give hope married with credibility.

“The two other parties have taught us to expect so little. Our manifesto says, emphatically, no to that kind of politics.

“If you have ever looked at the Lib Dems and thought: ‘Have they got the right ideas?’, this manifesto is your answer. We can and we will.”

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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.

Gordon Brown Launches Labour Manifesto

(Telegraph) – GORDON BROWN unveiled Labour’s manifesto for the election, describing it as ”a realistic and radical plan for Britain”.

Under the slogan ”A Future Fair For All”, the Labour manifesto promises to rebuild the economy, renew society and restore faith in politics.

Ahead of the May 6 General Election, it sets out plans to give citizens a greater voice in public services and allow the takeover or merger of under-performing schools, hospitals and even police forces.

As expected, Labour promises not to raise the basic, higher or top rates of income tax over the life of the next Parliament. There is no such commitment on VAT, though Labour does pledge not to extend it to food, children’s clothes, books, newspapers and public transport.

Launching the document at the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, Mr Brown said the manifesto was ”a realistic and radical plan for Britain that starts with securing the recovery and renews Britain as a fairer, greener, more accountable and more prosperous country for the future”.

Flanked by his Cabinet, Mr Brown insisted new Labour was “ready and equipped to answer the call of the future”.

He said: “The road to recovery that we have been travelling is also the road to a better and fairer Britain for all.

“Leave it to our opponents to try to build the present in the image of the past.

“The manifesto is written not in the past tense. It is written in the future tense because even in the darkest days of the crisis we never stopped thinking and planning for tomorrow.”

Mr Brown said: “We are in the future business and under my leadership we will always be in the future business. Building a future fair for all.”

The PM said Labour’s policies matter because Britain was “in a new world now”.

Just as September 11 had brought about a change in countries’ attitudes to terrorism and security, so the credit crunch had changed economic attitudes, he said.

“This is the first post-crisis vote for our country and it is the most important vote for a generation,” he insisted. “Get the big decisions right now, make the right choices now and we not only renew our economy but we renew our society, and renew our politics too.”

Mr Brown went on: “Labour will be restless and relentless reformers. Reformers of the market and reformers of the state.”

Mr Brown pledged to “give every citizen real choice and voice and put you in charge of the service you receive”.

He also promised to replace “discredited and distrusted politics with one where you the people are the boss”, saying the manifesto contained a “plan for national renewal”.

In a dig at the Conservatives, the Prime Minister said: “In its pages and online you will find a programme not setting out empty slogans of change, but setting out who is best for the NHS, who is best for schools, who is best for young people, who is best for jobs, who is best for our pensioners – for dignity and security in retirement with our new National Care Service.”

The priority was to secure the recovery but then move to a “fairer” recovery and economy.

“As long as we see this through – our plan for the future – you, the British people will be better off,” Mr Brown promised.

Business would be backed with high-speed rail, a green investment bank and wider access to broadband.

New standards in the boardroom would be demanded, and finance would take into account the “long-term interests of British business and industry”.

“It’s a Britain where banks serve the people and not the other way round, where banks pay their fair share to society through an international banking tax,” Mr Brown said – drawing applause from the crowd.

Industries where Britain “leads the world” would receive investment and small businesses would be supported, the Prime Minister said.

Plans for apprenticeships and jobs would result in a Britain where “everyone has a chance to get on”.

A minimum wage rising with earnings would help support families and first-time buyers would get more assistance.

Setting out his vision, Mr Brown said: “It’s a Britain where we have more homeowners, more students, more apprentices, more professionals, more businesses and a bigger middle class than ever before.”

In a question and answer session, Mr Brown insisted that the Government had been clear about its four-year plan to cut the deficit.

“We’ve done more than any other country to set out our plans in detail – the tax changes, the public spending reductions and the growth we will achieve to make that possible.

“We said very clearly: £11 billion from efficiency savings, £4 billion from public sector pay and pensions and £5 billion from non-priority areas.

“I don’t think any party could have been clearer.”

In a pointed jibe at the Tories, he added: “Our promises for the future are not based on a flimsy four-page document that does not add up.”

On the question of trust in politicians after the expenses scandal, Mr Brown said all politicians must apologise for letting the public down and stressed: “We can build a more open, fairer and democratic politics for the future.”

Labour was prepared to learn from “past mistakes” and bring forward bold new proposals.

“I’d rather be standing on a manifesto that said here is what we are going to do for the future, than on a manifesto like the Conservatives, who will defend, tomorrow, hereditary peers and no change in the House of Commons.”

Asked if Labour would raise VAT if they won on May 6, Mr Brown said: “We haven’t raised VAT since 1997. The only party that has raised VAT in the last 25 years is the Conservative Party.

“Our deficit reduction plans add up without having to put up VAT. The Conservative Party plans do not add up without assuming they will put up VAT.”

Mr Brown rejected the suggestion that it was inappropriate to be holding Labour’s manifesto launch in a taxpayer-funded hospital.

He said the Tories were merely “complaining” because the party had “found a wonderful building” in which to stage the event.

“This is a building that is held by the construction firm, that will be passed on to the NHS in the next few weeks,” he added.

Mr Brown dismissed questions over why there is no commitment in the manifesto to keep VAT at the same rate, insisting Labour’s record was “not to raise VAT when there have been difficulties”.

He said the Government had instead chosen to increase National Insurance to help tackle the deficit because it was fairer.

“That is the decision we have taken and I repeat our plans are costed on the basis of not raising VAT.”

Asked how people could trust Labour’s pledges after it created a new top rate income tax, having promised in 2005 that the levy would not increase, Mr Brown said the move had become “necessary” due to the financial crisis.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: “Labour’s manifesto sets out serious plans for supporting the economy and dealing with the deficit through steady economic growth and fair taxation, and is in stark contrast to Tory gimmicks and draconian cuts.

“There are commitments to protect funding for key public services like the NHS, schools, Sure Start and policing. This funding will be critical for supporting jobs, underpinning the economic recovery and improving life for working families.

“The manifesto gives real hope to the unemployed, the low-paid, and young people, through its Future Jobs Fund, apprenticeship schemes, Living Wage policies and guaranteed increases to the national minimum wage.”

Brown To Put Co-Op Ideal At Heart Of Labour Manifesto

(Guardian) – GORDON BROWN will today promise to put mutualism and co-operatives, such as the John Lewis Partnership, at the heart of Labour’s election manifesto. A Downing Street source said he wanted to draw heavily on the manifesto of the Co-operative party, an affiliate constituent of Labour, in preparing his own programme.

Brown is due to speak at a Downing Street seminar to launch a Co-operative party group, the Friends of the Co-operative Ideal. In a sometimes ideologically divided party, co-operatives have growing support from different wings including the Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell and the schools secretary, Ed Balls.

Brown, the first Co-operative party member to become prime minister, will ­say: “I have asked Ed Miliband to work with the Co-operative party as we draft the Labour manifesto for the forthcoming election, so that co-operative and mutual ideals are an integral part of Labour’s platform.”

The Co-operative party wants Labour to turn Northern Rock back into a mutual, and to make mutuals a bigger part of the future schools, hospitals and housing settlement. Jowell last year announced plans for an independent Commission on Ownership to investigate the issue. Communities secretary John Denham also backs giving the public powers to require service providers to attend meetings to explain the quality of their services.

At the weekend Labour digested polls suggesting the Tories will not secure an overall majority at the election unless they do considerably better in the marginals. A YouGov poll in the People showed the Conservatives on 40% (up two points on the You Gov poll in the Daily Telegraph on Friday), Labour on 31% (unchanged), and Lib Dems 18 % (down one point). Allies of Brown said he was determined to stay leader, even if he loses narrowly or a hung parliament emerges. In practice his continuance would be a block on any possible coalition talks with the Lib Dems. Harriet Harman, the deputy leader and seen as caretaker in any struggle, again stressed she had no interest herself in being leader.

No 10 rejected claims Brown had bullied or manhandled staff in what looked like a pre-emptive attempt to minimise the impact of a book by the Observer’s chief political commentator, Andrew Rawnsley. The Mail on Sunday claimed it asserts Brown barged a member of staff, took over typing of his speeches by pushing a secretary aside, and issued expletives when it was reported he had been snubbed by President Obama.

The Mail on Sunday has not seen the book, not due out for some weeks. It may make uncomfortable reading for Brown, but not for reasons given by the Mail.