Major puts Britain first on agenda

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The Independent Online


John Major yesterday refused to bow to the Euro-sceptics by offering any change of direction on Europe when he issued a personal manifesto for the leadership contest. He said it was a manifesto for "common sense Conservatism", but it will be seen as "more of the same" by his critics.

"I believe my line on Europe - maintaining our national identity but keeping intact the alliance that is so vital for our trade and our security - is shared by the vast majority of people, in both [the] Conservative Party and country," he said.

The Major manifesto underlined the conviction in the Major camp that the election will be won by attracting votes from the centre of the Tory party, rather than competing for the hard-right Euro-sceptics.

He promised to put Britain's interests first, but refused to close the option of joining a single currency. "We won the right to keep the pound. We kept our national veto. I will always put Britain's long-term national interest first," he said. The policy agenda, in the London Evening Standard, was rooted in Conservative traditions, he said. "I believe this is a winning agenda. Only division in the party stands between us and success."

The main points were:

Taxes - he promised to get back to the key Tory objective of getting taxes down, and cutting capital taxes. That would require cutting public spending to less than 40 per cent of national income over the next few years, an objective endorsed by the Cabinet last week.

Welfare - central to those ambitions is a determination to control the spiralling burden of welfare costs. Recent reforms to target benefits more on those in need had knocked billions of pounds off the budget, and the development of fully-funded pensions would avoid crippling taxes faced by European countries. There were no details of where other cuts may fall.

Housing - the aim is to create 1.5 million more home-owners in the next 10 years. More private capital to expand housing associations, and rebuild many of the worst public housing estates.

Education - there would be vouchers for nursery education and "we are developing other ideas to expand choice and diversity throughout the school system".

The elderly - "We are looking at new schemes to promote savings and to assist insurance for long-term care." He will continue to reform the benefit system to crack down on fraud and increase the incentives for work and self-reliance.

Law and order - there will be more police on the beat. "We shall shortly be opening two tough new prison regimes, drawing the best practice from American 'boot camps' to shock young offenders out of drifting into crime. Other ideas are under development."

Public services - The changes were unpopular but are now producing results. Public enterprise was coming in to improve the railways. "Now we must set higher standards still for every public service in the future."