`I love my country' - Howard

CONSERVATIVE leader Michael Howard yesterday launched his party's election manifesto, promising to go "into battle for Britain."The Tories are the first party major party to tell the voters what they are promising, and the document details £4 billion of tax cuts and a series of what Mr Howard said were carefully costed spending commitments.

By Graham Dines

CONSERVATIVE leader Michael Howard has launched his party's election manifesto, promising to go "into battle for Britain".

The Tories are the first party major party to tell the voters what they are promising and the document details £4billion of tax cuts and a series of what Mr Howard said were carefully-costed spending commitments.

The cover of the manifesto has been kept deliberately plain, with just the hand-written message "more police, cleaner hospitals, lower taxes, school discipline, controlled immigration, accountability".

Mr Howard said there were the "simple longings of the British people - people who feel forgotten and ignored".

He added: "They don't ask for much. They long for hospitals that are clean. I mean, how hard is it to keep a hospital clean? It's a good question. If only we had a government that could give a good answer.

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"People long for more police on the streets, to enforce respect, discipline and the law. They just don't understand why this seems so difficult. But it's completely beyond Mr Blair.

"People long for their children to be taught in disciplined schools. It's not unreasonable. It shouldn't even be an issue. But somehow you just know it's never going to happen as long as Mr Blair's around."

He added: "Mr Blair's been in charge of our immigration system for eight years and it's been eight years of chaos. Surely it's not that hard for an island nation to control its borders?

"People are longing for controlled immigration, a fair system that stops the abuse of our country's generosity.

"People are longing for a government that gives them value for money and lower taxes. Mr Blair's Government is taking more and more of people's hard-earned money and wasting it.

"People are realistic about tax. They don't mind paying it, as long as they get something in return. With Mr Blair, it seems that all they get in return is more pen-pushing, more bureaucracy, more waste.

"I love my country and I know it can be a much, much better place to live than it is today. So I'm going in to battle for Britain."

The manifesto promised that a Tory Government would "live within its means", matching Labour spending plans on the NHS, schools, transport and foreign aid, but spending 1% less overall per year.

Savings of £12bn a year by 2007/08 would come from cutting bureaucracy and quangos would pay to cut borrowing by £8bn and cut taxes by £4bn.

The state pension would be raised in line with earnings and pensioner households given an annual council tax discount of up to £500.

On education, an additional 600,000 school places would be provided over five years to allow 100,000 more parents to get their child into their first-choice school. Student fees would also be scrapped.

NHS spending would increase by £34bn - matching Labour - as well as centrally-set targets and bureaucratic bodies being scrapped and front-line staff given more powers.

Patients who choose to go private would have half the cost of the same treatment on the NHS paid by the taxpayer.

The Tories would also give matrons more power to close dirty wards to prevent infection and introduce health checks on immigrants.

An extra 5,000 police officers would be recruited each year and their paperwork slashed, an extra 20,000 prison places created and early release schemes scrapped.

Drug rehab places would be increased tenfold to tackle crime that was "out of control" and cannabis would be changed back to a class B drug.

On asylum and immigration, which is one of the party's most controversial policies, Britain would take, from the United Nations, only a fixed number of asylum seekers whose cases would be processed "outside Britain".

The UK would withdraw from the 1951 Geneva Convention to take back control of asylum policy that was "in chaos" and "encourages illegality".

An Australian-style points system for immigration would be introduced with Parliament setting an annual cap on numbers and a new border security force would patrol ports 24 hours a day to secure Britain's borders.

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