Promise that 'things can only get better'

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair unveiled his party's vision of a "new life for Britain" yesterday, a 36-page "pre-manifesto" bringing together policies and themes around five "early pledges" for the next election that "will make a real difference to people's lives".

Backed by the pop song "Things Can Only Get Better", and watched by Shadow Cabinet colleagues, Mr Blair declared: "In government, this will be what we deliver."

The five pledges are: to cut infant class sizes to 30; to halve the time from arrest to sentencing for young offenders; to cut NHS waiting lists; to get 250,000 under-25s off benefits and into work; and to set "tough" rules for public spending and borrowing.

In an unprecedented exercise in British politics, the manifesto will be put to a ballot of Labour Party members and Labour-supporting trade unionists after it is approved, as expected, by Conference in October.

Mr Blair brushed aside talk of a rising tide of disquiet among MPs over the "undemocratic" nature of the "take it or leave it" ballot on the manifesto. "If people believe this is not the direction the Labour Party should go in, now is the time to say. It is the time to choose as a party. It is the time to choose as a country," he said.

Two million copies of New Labour, New Life for Britain will be sent to all households in target marginal seats, along with cards printed with the five pledges and the words: "Keep this card and see that we keep our promises."

The Conservatives responded with cards printed with the five "new dangers" posed by New Labour, handed out by Tory activists picketing the launch at Labour's Millbank media centre.

The cards claim Labour would bankrupt Britain with new taxes and extra spending; break up Britain by devolution; "sell out Britain by giving up our veto" in Europe and sign up to a single currency without a referendum; destroy jobs with the Social Chapter and a minimum wage; and let career criminals "get away with softer sentences".

This was followed by the Tories' unveiling of a "New Labour, New Danger" poster, portraying shifty eyes peeping out from behind red curtains.

In the Commons, the Prime Minister picked up the theme: "The new Labour Party's policies mean new taxes - taxes in Scotland, taxes on people with children aged between 16 and 18, taxes for living in London, taxes on jobs with the Social Chapter and the minimum wage."

Mr Major said Labour's planned pounds 3bn windfall tax on privatised utilities, which would pay for the youth jobs programme, was "unravelling before their eyes". And the calculation of the cost savings from scrapping the Assisted Places Scheme failed to include the cost of educating children in the state sector.

Both charges were instantly rebutted by Labour. A spokesman said the Government expected 86,000 new pupils to be absorbed by state schools this year without extra cost, and that the end of the Assisted Places scheme would mean 6,000 extra state pupils a year.

Mr Blair said at the launch: "There has been a revolution inside the Labour Party. We have rejected the worst of our past and rediscovered the best."