The Labour manifesto laid bare

The Labour manifesto focuses on three main areas: the economic recovery from recession, the political recovery from the expenses scandal and "renewing our society".

By Alex Stevenson

On the economy, Labour plans to provide one million extra skilled jobs. The Labour government's plans are for 70,000 advanced apprenticeships and new 'skills' accounts.

A green investment bank would help direct money towards the transition to a low-carbon economy, while the 'digital Britain' agenda would see broadband in all homes in Britain by 2020. A Post Office bank will help protect against further closures and a National Care Service would be established (although parties haven't yet worked out how exactly this is going to work).

Gordon Brown announced details of the manifesto in a new hospital in Birmingham Edgbaston, so it's no coincidence that public services are a big part of the 'society' agenda. The emphasis is on personalising services - responding to ordinary people's needs. In health, every patient will get a cancer diagnosis within a week; and GPs will be open in the evenings and at weekends. Migrants in public sector jobs will be forced to take compulsory English tests. Council house building rates will be increased to address housing shortages.

There is no emphasis on fixing broken Britain here - although new powers for police community support officers will help them deal with anti-social behaviour. Police, like hospitals and schools, face penalties if they fail to live up to the Labour party's expectations. Failing organisations will be taken over by more successful rivals.

When it comes to improving political reform - "offering more democratic change than in a period of 100 years and more" as Brown put it - Labour have an ambitious agenda. MPs who lose the confidence of their constituents could be recalled and MPs would be given the chance to vote on lowering the voting age to 16 would be permitted. Most significantly, under Labour a double referendum would take place: the public would be given the chance to vote on shifting from first-past-the-post to alternative vote - and on Lords reform too.

It's also worth noting what isn't changing - what this manifesto doesn't include is as important as what it does. There are no new spending commitments here, no big shift in income tax or VAT. In education, pledging to maintain literacy and numeracy levels and continuing the refurbishment/rebuilding programme for schools do not represent major departures. In defence, seeking to build stability in Afghanistan and looking after the troops through state-of-the-art care are not big-ticket pledges. The big picture is that all the parties are constrained by spending cuts.

It's only at the end of the introduction that a series of "tough choices" are quickly listed. These include £15 billion of efficiency savings in 2010/11 (the Tories want £27 billion of cuts) as the first stage of the huge spending cuts to come. If you earn much more than most, a new 50p tax rate on those earning over £150,000 could hit you. If you earn much less than most, or are unemployed, welfare could be hit: there are £1.5 billion of savings to be found from somewhere. And if you work in the public sector, don't expect a huge pay rise. There will be a one per cent cap on basic pay rises up to April 2013 - and the taxpayers' liability for public sector pensions will be capped, saving £1 billion a year.