The election campaign began yesterday with claim and counter-claim by the main political parties. The day started with Labour publishing what the FT calls a “148-page blunderbuss dossier” detailing a £34 billion “credibility gap” in the Conservative’s spending plans and saw David Cameron flip-flop on his commitment to support marriage in the tax system. The Guardian headline claims that “Cameron error gives Labour first blood in election campaign” but the Telegraph reports that, “Labour’s attempt to launch their election campaign with an attack on Conservative spending plans backfired when it instead exposed divisions in their own economic policies.” The Tories described Labour’s document as “a dodgy dossier full of lies“. David Cameron said the document was “complete junk” and that he had spotted at least £11 billion worth of mistakes in about 11 seconds. Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats’ Treasury spokesman, said: “The Tory sums simply do not stack up. It is irresponsible and highly misleading for George Osborne to continue to pretend that they do.” The Independent‘s Fact Check concludes that, “both parties have a huge credibility gap, and neither’s sums add up.”
Another of David Cameron’s commitments was “left in confusion” last night as a draft manifesto appeared to downgrade several key health promises. The Independent reports that, “It included a change to an earlier pledge of 45,000 single rooms within five years.” The draft document did not repeat specifics, instead guaranteeing to “increase the single rooms in hospitals, as resources allow”. The Times says the “document appeared to confirm warnings by a senior Tory insider that the document was drawn up in haste after an unexpected tightening of the polls last year.” Left Foot Forward outlined yesterday how the announcement was confused on health inequalities and said little about standards.
Writing for the Times, Nick Clegg says, “My message to Mr Brown and Mr Cameron is simple: the Liberal Democrats are up for real change. We are not up for sale.” On the Today programme, Clegg described his party’s platform as based on “fairness”. He refused to rule out forming an alliance with either party. But according to the Independent, Clegg faces a backlash from his grassroots if he moves his party too close to the Conservatives in a hung parliament. A poll last week found that 58 per cent named the Tory leader as the worst option for a coalition partner, with 42 per cent for Mr Brown. The result mirrored a poll of Liberal Democrat councillors in the autumn, when nearly twice as many said they would like their party to support Labour (31 per cent) in a hung Parliament against just 16 per cent for the Tories.
In an exclusive, The Times says that “An impoverished Labour Party will be unable to return fire against the Conservatives’ pre-election advertising blitz for months, amid fears that it could emerge from the campaign bankrupt.” The paper quotes David Blunkett saying that the party lacked the “big money and big charisma” that sustained it when Tony Blair was leader. Mr Blunkett confirmed that the party had a campaign budget of only £8 million, much of which will be held back until the election campaign in April. The Tories are expected to raise about £25 million. Meanwhile, a Financial Times Editorial says that “Cameron takes up a defensive stance.” It claims that “This week’s launch is designed to pre-empt Labour attacks, rather than advance positive reasons to vote for the Conservative party. There is still a great deal of popular suspicion about the Tories.”
Away from the Westminster Village, The Guardian reports that Gordon Brown condemned as “abhorrent and offensive” plans by a controversial Islamist group to stage a march through Wootton Bassett. The leader of Islam4UK, Anjem Choudary, has said he will try to persuade people in Wootton Bassett to back an anti-war parade along the main street – the same route used to bring home the bodies of troops from Afghanistan. The Daily Mail‘s headline says, “Home Secretary set to ban Muslim hate preacher’s march through Wootton Bassett as 250,000 join Facebook protest.” Left Foot Forward yesterday reported how Choudary compared British soldiers to Nazis.
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