Brown launches manifesto for 'fight of our lives'

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Gordon Brown today launched a distinctly Blairite Labour manifesto for the General Election, promising to reform public services to "put people in charge" and pledging not to raise income tax rates.

Acknowledging that Labour faced "the fight of our lives" to secure a fourth term, Mr Brown promised to rebuild the economy and avoid "reckless" cuts in public spending which he said would put recovery at risk.

While the Conservatives offered "empty slogans about change", Labour's 76-page manifesto presented "a realistic and radical plan for Britain that starts with securing the recovery and renews Britain as a fairer, greener, more accountable and more prosperous country for the future", he said.

Mr Brown described the manifesto as "ambitious but affordable, bold but realistic". But opponents said Labour had no vision for the future.

Tory leader David Cameron, visiting Loughborough, said: "There's nothing new there. There's nothing different there. There's no real change there."

And Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said Labour were repeating promises of fairness and new politics they made in each of the last three elections, adding: "If they haven't managed to do it in 13 years, why on earth would anyone believe they will be able to do it this time?"

The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said today's manifesto gave no certainty on the size and combination of tax rises and spending cuts envisaged to meet Labour's commitment to halve the UK's £167 billion deficit within four years.

"The party listed plenty of new things it would like to do, but was no clearer about where the spending cuts would fall," said the IFS. "And it listed a few tax increases that it promised not to implement, but left the door wide open to many others."

The manifesto pledged not to extend VAT to items like food and children's clothes, but made no commitment not to raise the tax.

But Mr Brown dismissed suggestions the party was leaving itself room for a post-election hike, insisting Labour's fiscal plans "add up without having to put up VAT", while Conservative proposals do not.

The Prime Minister also ran into a storm over his choice of the gleaming new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham to launch the document.

He hailed the building, opening in June, as embodying "the timeless ideal of compassion in action", but Tories wrote to Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell to complain that he had breached rules barring the use of NHS facilities for election meetings.

Flanked by his Cabinet and wife Sarah, Mr Brown set out plans to:

:: Give parents the power to demand change in the leadership of schools, with the creation of 1,000 "accredited" schools by 2015;

:: Make every NHS hospital a Foundation Trust, with those already holding the status able to take over those which are not "up to the mark";

:: Sack chief constables and police commanders who fail to deliver results and give the Home Secretary powers to merge under-performing forces with more effective neighbours.

Following last year's expenses scandal, Mr Brown promised to reform politics with referendums on fairer votes for Westminster elections and a democratic Upper House, and opened the prospect of votes at 16.

For families, there were promises of a £4-a-week Toddler Tax Credit, four weeks' paternity leave and the extension of free nursery care for two-year-olds.

Promises of a maximum 18-week wait for NHS treatment and cancer test results within a week were confirmed.

And Labour said it would take the first steps towards a National Care Service, though free care at home would initially be restricted to those with greatest needs.

Victims of anti-social behaviour will be given a right to legal injunctions, funded by the police or councils who have let them down, as well as guaranteed 24-hour response to complaints.

And for business, there was a £4 billion fund to promote growth and a Green Investment Bank to deliver funding for low-carbon technologies, along with investment in high-speed rail links and broadband for all.

By supporting growth, Labour would create one million skilled jobs and 70,000 advanced apprenticeships, said Mr Brown.

Describing the 2010 poll as the first "post-crisis election", he won warm applause from activists by saying he wanted "a Britain where banks serve the people and not the other way around, and banks pay their fair share to society through an international banking tax". The Northern Rock bank, rescued with taxpayers' money, could return to building society status through mutualisation, he said.

Labour's campaign chief Lord Mandelson described the package as "Blair plus".

And Mr Brown declared himself "proud" of his predecessor's record as he defiantly rejected Opposition claims that, after 13 years in power, the Government has run out of steam.

"In 1997, New Labour asked the country for the opportunity to renew Britain - our hospitals, our schools, our towns and cities," said Mr Brown.

"Now, in a changed time, New Labour is once again ready and equipped to answer the call of the future."