`No income tax rises' - Blair

LABOUR pledged it would not raise basic or top rates of income tax in the next parliament if it wins the General Election.This unequivocal assurance was made by Tony Blair – who confirmed this would be his last election as party leader – when he launched the party's manifesto – Britain Forward Not Back – at a politically star studded ceremony in a London theatre.

LABOUR pledged it would not raise basic or top rates of income tax in the next parliament if it wins the General Election.

This unequivocal assurance was made by Tony Blair, who confirmed this would be his last election as party leader, when he launched the party's manifesto - Britain Forward Not Back - at a politically star-studded ceremony in a London theatre.

However, there was no such commitment on National Insurance contributions, which could signal the way for an increase which would have as big an impact on take home pay as raising income tax.

“In respect of National Insurance, we have made it clear no party can give pledges in respect of each and every part of what may appear in a Budget,” said Mr Blair.

The Prime Minister did rule out following our European partners - there will be no Value Added Tax on food, children's clothes, books, newspapers and public transport fares.

“A big vision” lies behind the 110-page long manifesto, said Mr Blair.

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“It is that everyone, not just a few, should get the chance to succeed and make the most of the talent they have. It is to build a Britain, a genuine opportunity society, where what matters is hard work, playing by the rules, not class or privilege or background.

“Every line of this manifesto has this driving mission behind it - to support and help hard-working families to cope and prosper in the face of the stresses and strains and struggle of modern life.

“Their interests first, their priorities are our priorities.”

Mr Blair promised a “radical acceleration of the changes”' made by the party over the past eight years.

He was joined by Chancellor Gordon Brown, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt, Health Secretary John Reid, Home Secretary Charles Clarke and Education Secretary Ruth Kelly who recited promises from the manifesto.

Mr Brown - who has been joined at Mr Blair's hip this past week to give the impression of total unity at the top of Government - repeated the manifesto's promise to continue to make “targeted tax cuts for families and to support work” adding: “We will never take risks with stability.

“Our inflation target will be 2% to keep interest rates and mortgage rates as low as possible for Britain's hard-working families.

“We ask the British people: Are you better off than eight years ago? Is the British economy stronger and more stable than eight years ago? And who is best to continue the stability and growth that has been achieved?”

Mr Blair confirmed this would be his last campaign as leader, but insisted he would serve a full third term if re-elected. “I have said this is my last election. At the election following, there will be a different leader.”

He intends to serve right up to the dissolution of the next parliament before the next election. “Yes. When I say a full third term, that's exactly what I mean.”

Manifesto pledges include:

National minimum wage to be raised to £5.05-an-hour from October 2005 and to £5.35-an-hour from October 2006. Incapacity benefit to be reformed.

Aim to raise total public and private sector investment in research and development as a proportion national income from 1.9% to 2.5% by 2014.

Year-on-year increases to transport spending, with total investment of £180 billion in public money over the next decade.

Free off-peak local bus travel for the over 60s and the disabled.

Literacy and numeracy programmes for primary school pupils to be intensified, to ensure a further 50,000 pupils achieve high standards by age 11. Primary schools to be allowed to seek foundation status.

Aim that all secondary schools become independent specialist schools. Good schools to be allowed to expand and take over less successful schools.

A zero tolerance approach to low level classroom disruption. Parenting orders and fines for parents whose children do not attend school.

A neighbourhood policing team for every community. A new £340 million-a-year fund to raise the numbers of community support officers to 24,000, with the equivalent of an extra 12,000 police officers to be freed up for frontline duties.

Parish council wardens to be given the power to issue penalty notices for anti-social behaviour. Action by councils and police to deal with "neighbours from hell'.

New powers for councils and police to deal with unauthorised gypsy and traveller sites.

Alcohol disorder zones to be established to help pay for extra policing around pubs and clubs, with powers to shut down premises selling alcohol to under age drinkers.

Robust and fair immigration rules with a points system for would-be immigrants, with only skilled workers allowed to settle long term in the UK. Financial bonds to guarantee migrants from countries where there is evidence of abuse return home. Appeal rights in non-family immigration cases to be abolished.

Entrants to UK requiring a visa to be fingerprinted from 2008, with ID cards for all visitors staying more than three months.

ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, to be introduced initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports.

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