British Conservative leader David Cameron pledged Tuesday to return “power back to the people” and restore public faith in Britain’s “shattered” political system if he wins the May 6 general election.
REUTERS - Conservative leader David Cameron sought on Tuesday to offset a tough message on cutting public spending with a vision of citizens taking charge of their destinies, as he launched his manifesto for a May 6 election.
Campaigning to lead his party back to power after 13 years of Labour rule, Cameron unveiled a document that said tackling Britain's bulging deficit was a priority but that did not have to come at the expense of quality public services.
He contrasted what he presented as a wasteful and overbearing "big government" built up by Labour, and the dream of a "big society" in which people and businesses could take initiatives, free from state interference.
"If we change the whole way this country is run to empower people ... then yes, we can make things better without spending more money," he said during a glitzy launch event, with the slogan "We're all in this together" in huge letters behind him.
The opinion polls suggest the Conservatives are ahead of Labour by 7-8 points, not a big enough margin to be sure of winning an overall majority in parliament. The election is shaping up to be the tightest race since 1992.
The launch was held inside the disused Battersea Power Station, a dilapidated London landmark that Cameron said symbolised the need to regenerate a "broken Britain".
The manifesto brought together under the banner of giving "power back to the people" a range of ideas, from letting dissatisfied parents set up new schools to allowing public sector workers to form cooperatives.
Other flagship pledges include allowing voters to veto local tax rises, elect police overseers and take over local services.
Labour leaders have pledged to halve the deficit in four years but say they would not cut public spending until next year because it would endanger economic recovery. They said Cameron was offering a "do-it-yourself" approach to public services.
"This is not an agenda for empowerment -- it's an agenda for abandonment," said Peter Mandelson, the minister for business.
He said the Conservatives would have to cut spending very sharply to fund promised tax cuts and this would mean slashing frontline public services and neglecting parts of society.
Lofty vision, dearth of ideals
The two largest parties both talk about the need for "tough decisions" on public spending, but neither has spelt out where the axe will fall.
"We support Conservative commitments to cut public spending sooner rather than later and the desire to avoid new tax rises," said the Institute of Directors, a centre-right business lobby.
"However, business is being required to take some of these commitments on faith because as yet there is little detail on how the cuts will be delivered," it said in a statement.
With Britain only just emerging from the worst recession since World War Two and the deficit running at over 11 percent of GDP, the economy is the central election issue.
But at his manifesto launch, punctuated by upbeat songs like "Dancing in the Street", Cameron tried to get away from dour talk of spending cuts to focus on his "big society" idea.
"I think the politicians have been treating the public like mugs for about 40 years, pretending that actually we the politicians have all the answers," he said during one of the most impassioned moments of his presentation.
"Just give us some power ... we'll pass a few more laws, we'll issue some regulations, we'll spend a bit more money and it will all get better. And it's a lie. It doesn't work like that," he said.