Flimsy manifesto tugs at the voters’ heart strings

Gordon Brown says his party’s policies are “rooted in the day to day concerns” of the British people. Election Editor GRAHAM DINES tests this claim

IT was a venue chosen with the utmost of care. Politicians are not allowed to use public buildings for electioneering, but Gordon Brown needed to launch his manifesto against the backdrop of the increased spending on public services in the past 13 years.

Thus the Prime Minister, his Cabinet, Parliamentary candidates, activists and the media all turned up at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, built through the Private Finance Initiative and which will be provide the very latest medical facilities for our armed forced injured in Afghanistan.

It’s not open yet - but a facility named after the sovereign and treating service personnel shows that Labour’s image makers know how to tug at the heart strings of the electorate.

The irony is that when the hospital opens in June, Labour might not be in power. If the polls are to be believed - even taking into account the fluctuating and varying numbers depending on which opinion survey you believe - David Cameron will the Prime Minister who accompanies Her Majesty to the official opening ceremony.

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As manifesto launches go, it was a reasonably subdued affair, and that’s because there is so little certainty of stopping the Tories. Yes, there were plenty of standing ovations for their leader, but no matter how upbeat Labour is publicly, deep down there is a fear that the end is nigh.

If only Gordon had gone to the country in October 2007, when the opinion polls pointed to yet another landslide for Labour. But no, stubborn as usual, he put off the election and he and Labour have been overtaken by events.

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At the heart of the manifesto is a programme for economic recovery which “renews Britain as a fairer, greener, more accountable and more prosperous country for the future’’.

“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.’’

Or perhaps the truth is that it’s written in the future tense because Brown did not wish to remind voters of the raid on pension funds, flogging off gold reserves for a fraction of the value, or the great 10% tax fiasco, probably the single most cack-handed fiscal policy of any Chancellor since the end of World War II

Whatever a person’s political preferences, there can be no denying that Labour has thrown billions at the public services. Schools, universities and hospitals have opened - yet if the spending had been better targeted, there might not have been so many reorganisations of the NHS and the corresponding mushrooming of bureaucrats.

The Prime Minister is wooing voters with a promise that once the recovery has been secured, he will lead Britain to a fairer economy. “As long as we see this through - our plan for the future - you, the British people will be better off.”

So what can we really expect if Labour does win the election?

What we’re promised is Utopia - “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.’ Industries in which we “lead the world’’ will receive investment, small businesses will be, apprenticeships and jobs will flourish so that everyone has a chance to get on, the minimum wage will rise with earnings,

There should be “no limit to what the best in the public sector can do” and by 2015, there will be 1,000 academies and federated schools in total. And personal tuition for those primary school pupils falling behind would be available to every parent.

Every hospital will be a foundation trust and those that weren’t “up to the mark’’ would be taken over by a trust that was.

If a police force is letting down a local community, another force could come in to “protect and serve.”

The Prime Minister said: “I believe that we write a new chapter in the story of our nation’s most treasured institutions, where Labour guarantees in law that every patient will get test results within a week if they are at risk of cancer and where every family has access to a GP that is open in the evening and weekends.’’

He went on: “I say to you today, the future will be progressive or Conservative - it will not be both. New Labour is in the fight of our lives - and it is the fight for your future.

“I have faith in Britain, in our people and our businesses. I am confident the future is one of a prosperity that can be both sustained and shared.”

There is little contrition in the manifesto, except in learning “the lessons we take from our experience to date.”.

The primary purpose of a manifesto written by the party in power is to try to convince voters not to listen to the siren voices of the opposition parties.

But this is a document written by a Government which has no money. It’s full of flimsy aspirations but short on anything of real substance except - surprisingly for a Labour manifesto - pledges to fully fund the armed forces, to give the RAF a new generation of fighter plans, to complete Britain’s two new aircraft carriers, and to maintain the independent nuclear deterrent.

The Prime Minister admits in the foreword that there are no big spending commitments but there is a determination for “every penny to be used wisely . . . and to give the maximum protection to frontline public services.”

n You can read the manifesto online at www2.labour.org.uk/manifesto-splash

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