‘People power’ dominates Tory manifesto

By Alex Stevenson and Ian Dunt

David Cameron’s Conservatives have reached out to the entire country in a manifesto laced with references to “people power”.

The Tories launched their manifesto in Battersea this lunchtime, placing the emphasis on taking power away from government in a bid to free up individual creativity.

The 130-page document bears a sombre blue cover with the words ‘Invitation to join the government of Britain’ on it. The style is intended to reflect the serious issues facing the country at the election – and send the message to voters that ordinary people will be empowered under the Tories.

The launch, which took place at the Battersea Power Station building in west London, saw the iconic power station emblazoned with a projected sign last night. “Who is the new member of Cameron’s team? Find out here tomorrow,” it read.

The lengthy event saw senior members of Mr Cameron’s shadow Cabinet deliver a series of short speeches, before the leader himself emerged to outline his vision of a “big society”.

“Be your own boss. Sack your MP. Choose your own school. Own your own home. Veto high council tax rises. Vote for your police commissioner. Save your local post office. See how government spends your money,” he said.

“So many things to do. So little time in which to do them. The country wants change and I want to get started.”

Among the main measures is a pledge to force GPs to remain open seven days a week from 08:00 to 20:00.

A ‘fuel duty stabiliser’ would be introduced to mitigate the impact of high oil prices, by using extra money levied from taxes on energy firms to temporarily lower fuel duty.

And plans to create 400,000 extra training places, including 200,000 apprenticeships, are also included.

In the foreword to the document Mr Cameron argued his party has “the energy, the ideas, the ambition to get Britain back on track”.

Long-standing Tory pledges, such as the recognition of marriage in the tax system, plans for voters to be able to sack their MPs, cuts in stamp duty for first-time buyers and directly-elected police chiefs, are also included.

“We offer a new approach: a change not just from one set of politicians to another; from one set of policies to another. It is a change from one political philosophy to another,” Mr Cameron wrote in the manifesto’s foreword.

“From the idea that the role of the state is to strengthen society and make public services serve the people who use them. In a simple phrase, the change we offer is from big government to Big Society.”

The theme of community empowerment runs through the document.

Parents and charities could take over academies or set up new ones and communities could veto council tax rises through local referendum under the Tories’ plans.

In addition, the Conservatives want to give communities the right to buy their local pub or post office.

There are tough passages on crime, with guaranteed prison sentences for knife offences and mobile scanners on the streets.

The private sector will be brought into rehabilitation and will be paid by its result in preventing prison-leavers going back into a life of crime.

The Tories secured their commitment to set an annual limit on the number of non-EU immigrants coming to the country.

The document pledged to raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million and freeze council tax for two years.

Other measures include making cheap shares available in state-owned banks and helping children of armed forces personnel get a ‘proper education’.

Peter Mandelson, Labour’s chair of election strategy, focused on the Tory phrase ‘We;re all in this together’, which featured prominently at the event.

“When the Tories say ‘we’re all in this together’, what they really mean is ‘you’re on your own’,” he said.

“This is not an agenda for empowerment – it’s an agenda for abandonment. At the very moment when people need help and support the Tories believe that government support should be cut.

“Look behind the gloss and it’s the same old Tory message: sink or swim, you’re on your own.”

Nick Clegg’s chief of staff, Danny Alexander, said: “The truth is that you cannot trust the Conservatives. David Cameron simply believes it is his turn to take over in the same way the two old parties have taken turns for years.

“Today’s manifesto offers the same old empty promises based on the lazy assumption that people will just give them another go.”

The manifesto comes one day after Labour’s document was published, and a day before the Liberal Democrats offer their programme for government.

The aftermath of Gordon Brown’s big speech yesterday was dominated by Conservative attacks on the suitability of a hospital as a venue for the launch.