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David Cameron set out his “blueprint for Britain” yesterday, launching a “DIY revolution”, promising “a big society not a big state”. The Telegraph describes it as “an ambitious plan to roll back the size of the state with a manifesto that places “responsibility and self-reliance at the heart of the nation’s regeneration”. The Tory leader said it was “the biggest call to arms this country has seen in a generation,” claiming it “represented the largest devolution of power from the state to the public in 30 years” with policies to give voters the power to sack MPs, take over schools, own their own public services and veto council tax rises.
He did not, however, rule out increases in vat and failed to spell out in detail how exactly the Conservatives would go about reducing the nation’s debt. The Telegraph adds: “Last night the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies said it was likely the Tories would have to raise taxes during the next Parliament to pay for tax cuts the party has already committed itself to, including National Insurance, council tax and tax breaks for married couples.” Last night Left Foot Forward reported on the Tories’ “missing manifesto commitments”; these included a fair pay review and a public sector pay ceiling, quashing historic convictions for consensual gay sex, and 220,000 new school places.
The Times publishes details of its latest Populus poll, which “reveals deep disenchantment with the campaign so far and high levels of scepticism about manifesto pledges and the parties’ honesty” and finds “more voters are now hoping for a hung Parliament than either a Tory or a Labour outright victory”. The headline figure shows the Tory lead down to three points, leading Labour 36%-33%, with the Liberal Democrats on 21%. It also found that “32 per cent of the public hope for a hung Parliament, against 28 per cent who want a Tory majority and 22 per cent a Labour one”. The Sun’s latest YouGov daily tracker, meanwhile, has the Conservatives on 39%, Labour on 31% and the Liberal Democrats on 20%, with the latest ITV News/Independent ComRes poll – carried out in the wake of Labour’s manifesto launch – putting the Tories on 36%, Labour 31% and the Lib Dems 19%, a Tory lead of five points that, if repeated on May 6, would leave Labour the largest party in a hung parliament, with 283 MPs to the Tories’ 281 and the Lib Dems’ 53.
The Liberal Democrats launch their manifesto this morning, with Nick Clegg claiming only his party has the “big ideas” needed to create a fair society. Launching “four steps to a fairer Britain”, the Indy reports that Mr Clegg will say: “Elections that can really make a difference don’t come along very often. But this is one of them This May, you have an opportunity to shape the future of our country for the better. We’ve had 65 years of Labour and the Conservatives: the same parties taking turns and making the same mistakes, letting you down. They have taught people to expect little from politics, and get less. It is time for something different. It is time for something better.” The Guardian says he will “to war with Labour over civil liberties”, making a “post-election partnership” appear remote. He will add: “It’s a measure of the authoritarian streak of the Labour party that it didn’t refer once to liberty in its own manifesto … The division between the Lib Dems and Labour on civil liberties is as wide today as it was at the height of Blair’s authoritarian populism.” The Telegraph says the party will “woo the elderly” by giving “an extra £1 billion to older voters over the next five years by raising pensions immediately” and the Times says the Lib Dems “will admit in their manifesto today that voters face the prospect of tax rises after the election”.
Ken Clarke, in an interview with the Financial Times, has said the Conservatives would adopt a “laisser faire approach to business based on low taxes, deregulation and less state support”, dismissing as “populist nonsense” Labour’s plans to block impede hostile takeovers and deter hedge fund predators. The shadow business secretary says “Grants and subsidies? I’m not keen” and likens Lord Mandelson to “a Bourbon monarch [who] went round in his coach throwing out gold coins”. Yet he then criticises the laissez-faire lack of regulation, saying: “The fact that we have got into such calamitous trouble because of bank failure, bad regulation and government reckless spending does not mean we start throwing out all the things that made us a competitive economy before”. His remarks came as the prime minister admitted making mistakes over the banking crisis. The Standard reports that Gordon Brown believes “it was a mistake not to have taken a tougher line with the banks” when he was Chancellor.
Internationally, the main story is the earthquake in China, which has killed 300 and injured 8,000, leaving thousands trapped in collapsed mud huts. Times Online reports that the magnitude 6.9 tremor “shook the town of Yushu in northwestern Qinghai province this morning”, followed by “a series of large aftershocks that destroyed low-rise brick and mud buildings in the Tibetan county … Troops stationed nearby were already digging with their bare hands through the rubble in search of survivors”. A Tibetan woman whose mother was crushed to death in the quake told the paper: “It’s really hard to reach anyone by telephone and I must hurry to help.” The report adds: “Residents fled their homes of mud and wood as the first tremor struck … Part of a vocational school had toppled and many students were trapped inside as rescuers scrabbled to reach them.” Another eyewitness says: “Children and teachers are outside in the playgrounds. The Qinghai military will airdrop food and supplies. No one dares to go back inside because of the aftershocks.”
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