Labour highlights Tory ‘postcode lottery’ threat

By Alex Stevenson

Peter Mandelson has kickstarted Labour’s first major offensive against the Conservative manifesto, saying the Tory emphasis on people power offers nothing but “abandonment”.

It follows David Cameron’s invitation for ordinary people to take greater control over “the government of Britain” yesterday.

Flanked by schools secretary Ed Balls and health secretary Andy Burnham at an early morning press conference, Lord Mandelson responded by saying people relied on the government to ensure public services continued to receive “proper funding” and “clear guarantees of standards”.

“Having the government step aside and saying ‘you’re on your own, hope for the best’ will not be most people’s idea of an unmissable opportunity’,” he said.

“The Tories are giving no detail of the pain ahead in what they would do to public services. But the reality of the Tory manifesto would have serious consequences for the services of our schools and NHS – including the return of a postcode lottery.”

Mr Burnham broadened criticisms of the Tories by accusing them of outright dishonesty. He said shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley and others were prepared to “say literally anything they like to neutralise the NHS”, by pledging unspecified funding increases and promising all “difficult changes” would be suspended.

“This is just lacking honesty. It is saying anything on the NHS to take it away as an issue,” he said.

Mr Balls warned that the £1.7 billion of cuts Britain’s schools could face if the Tories came to power would mean the equivalent of one teacher or classroom assistant being lost in every primary school in the country.

He repeated the idea that the Conservatives’ proposals would have a negative, not a positive, impact on ordinary people.

“They tell parents unhappy with the current school they have to go it alone and set up a school down the road,” Mr Balls explained.

“But for the majority of parents who don’t have the time or the know-how to run their own school, their children would be left behind, the school they’re in would be allowed to wither, with the funding and the best teachers leaving their school to go to the new schools down the road.”

Labour campaigners argue that under the Tories there would be no guarantees for parents or patients; no redress if public services fail to meet high standards; and no protection of the frontline.

A recent Institute for Fiscal Studies report said schools are the biggest unprotected targets for Tory plans to spend less under Labour.

Later foreign secretary David Miliband addressed party activists at Labour party headquarters, attacking Mr Cameron’s manifesto speech reference to John F Kennedy’s “ask not what you can do for your country, but ask what you can do for your country” quote.

Mr Miliband said: “The words may be JFK’s but the policies are all George W Bush. When you peel away the rhetoric of the big society, what do you find? The message is not about self-service, but government at your service. It’s about on your bike, not on your side.”

Mr Miliband said the British people could not trust the Tories with the NHS, calling their “big society” idea a “big gamble”.