Power to the people as Cameron backs `society’

GRAHAM DINES looks at the Conservative election manifesto and how it will help - or hinder - David Cameron’s chances of moving into No10 Downing Street

As she unashamedly ripped the heart out of One Nation Conservatism which had stood the Tories in good stead for most of the late 19th and 20th centuries - from Disraeli to Bonar Law, Churchill, Macmillan and Heath - she distanced the party from the middle ground and embarked on the Thatcherite vision of “everyone for him or herself.”

However, David Cameron knows that if he is to have any chance of achieving an overall majority on May 6, he has to appeal to legions of voters who are scared of the notion that everyone should either stand on their own two feet or wither on the vine.

His Conservative Party’s manifesto which was launched yesterday acknowledged that the state cannot and should not do everything but must rely on communities to put responsibility at the heart of British life.

It rejects Labour’s notion of big Government but rows the Tories back from the excesses of Thatcherism.

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“It’s not a traditional manifesto. It’s something different - very different,” said Cameron as he unveiled the document at Battersea Power Station, symbolically chosen because it is in a must-win Labour-held marginal constituency.

The manifesto sets out a range of policies which Tories say will devolve power from politicians to people and from central government to local communities.

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Pledges include enabling public sector workers to take ownership of the services they deliver through the formation of co-operatives, power for constituents to sack their MP if they are found to have committed serious wrongdoing, allowing any “good’’ education provider to establish a new academy school within the state system, and help for first-time home-buyers by permanently raising the stamp duty threshold to �250,000 and making it easier for social tenants to own their own homes;

The Conservatives will give powers for residents to veto high council tax increases and instigate referendums on any local issue if they can gain support of 5% of the population, to create of directly-elected police chiefs who will set budgets and strategy for forces, and the establishment of a community “right to buy’’ scheme enabling people to protect community services that are under threat such as post offices or pubs.

The manifesto aims to attract Liberal Democrat and Labour voters who back reform and decentralisation while playing to the Eurosceptic gallery by pledging not to cede any more British sovereignty to the European federalists.

“In future, the British people must have their say on any transfer of powers to the European Union” says the manifesto. “We will amend the 1972 European Communities Act so that any proposed future treaty that transferred areas of power, or competences, would be subject to a

referendum - a ‘referendum lock.’’’

Despite Cameron’s assurance that everything was properly costed, the big weakness in the manifesto is detail of how the party’s pledges will be funded. There remains the spectre of Shadow Chancellor George Osborne moving into the Treasury and tearing up Government spending plans, a policy which would inevitably result in a rise in unemployment.

Cameron has avoided matching Labour’s commitment not to raise the basic, higher or top rates of income tax over the course of the next Parliament. And while he reiterated the Tory policies of reversing Labour’s National Insurance hike - known as “a tax on jobs” - and carrying out the long-standing promise to raise the inheritance tax threshold to �1million, there was no mention of VAT, which could rise to European levels.

He stressed ``everyone knew’’ there would have to be cuts in Government spending - so just why is he keeping the details secret?

The Tories want the public to join in Cameron’s crusade. “Together we can do anything” he said as he issued an invitation To Join The Government Of Britain.

He said: “We do not stand here and make the usual politicians’ promises. We do not say ‘Give us your vote and we will solve all your problems.’ We say something different. We say ‘No government can solve all the problems on its own’.’’

He said he believed in “we, the people, coming together, working together, achieving together. Not just the State. Not just the individual. But society. We stand for society.”

Labour thinking which measured everything by money and how much was spend assumed that only Big Government could solve Britain’s problems. “But the alternative to Big Government is not no government. It’s good government. Effective government.

“Focusing on what needs to be done and working with people to achieve it.’’

This “be your own boss” philosophy actually supposes, of course, that voters want to stand on their own two feet. The welfare state makes many disinclined to while people who are working longer hours so that they can stay in a job do not have the time or the energy to start running community projects.

<n> The manifesto can be downloaded from the Conservative Party website: www.conservatives.com/Policy/Manifesto.aspx

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