David Cameron will today promise a radical extension of "people power" throughout public services as he sets out his programme for government in the Conservatives' election manifesto.
His attempt to outflank Labour came as a ComRes poll for The Independent and ITV News reveals that the Tories are winning the battle for public support over their decision to reverse the rise in National Insurance contributions (NICs) due to take effect in April next year. Two in three people, including a majority of Labour voters, regard it as a "tax on jobs".
However, the survey suggests Mr Cameron is not yet heading for outright victory. The Tories are on 37 per cent (down two points since the last ComRes poll for The Independent on Sunday), Labour 30 per cent (down two) and the Liberal Democrats on 20 per cent (up four). These figures would leave Mr Cameron 31 seats short of an overall majority, with 295 seats to Labour's 266 and the Liberal Democrats' 57.
The Tory manifesto will detail a series of pledges to hand extra powers to people to run schools, control local services, veto council tax rises – and even save pubs and post offices from closure. The 130-page policy blueprint, billed last night as a "people's manifesto", invites the nation to join Mr Cameron "to form a new kind of government for Britain". It will contrast his aim to devolve power to individuals and communities with what it calls Labour's top-down management style.
The manifesto will promise parents that education will be revolutionised by the creation of a "new generation" of free schools run by other schools, charities or private companies.
Residents will be given the power to trigger local referendums on any local issue if five per cent of the local population sign up – such as to block council tax hikes – to axe "invisible and unaccountable police authorities" and create directly elected police chiefs.
A "community right to buy" scheme will give people the power to take over facilities such as pubs and post offices, while patients will be guaranteed access to a local GP 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Workers will be promised the right to take over public sector services such as Jobcentres and nursing teams and turn them into a co-operative and a new programme will be created to help entrepreneurs turn their ideas into reality.
Mr Cameron writes in the manifesto: "Real change comes when the people are inspired and mobilised, when millions of us are fired up to play a part in the nation's future."
The Tories will break with tradition by publishing their manifesto as a hardback book and not including a slogan or photograph on the cover. Its also confirms the party's intention to scrap the rise in NICs, claiming it could cost 57,000 jobs in small and medium-sized businesses, and to eliminate "the bulk" of Britain's structural deficit over the lifetime of a parliament.
According to ComRes, people believe the Tories are right to oppose Labour's plans to raise NICs by a margin of 48 per cent to 35 per cent. One in three Labour supporters agrees with the Tories' stance. Almost two out of three people (64 per cent) think an increase in NICs is effectively a tax on jobs, while one in four (25 per cent) disagree. Remarkably, a majority (53 per cent) of Labour voters agree with this statement.
Labour's argument that NICs is a fair way to increase taxes is rejected by 52 per cent of the public (including 39 per cent of Labour supporters), while 38 per cent of people agree. Gordon Brown argued yesterday that the Tories' sums would not add up without a rise in VAT. But Labour's ability to attack the Tories' pledge on NICs was undermined when Labour stopped short of promising not to raise VAT in its manifesto. Mr Brown insisted: "The only party which has raised VAT in the last 25 years is the Conservative Party."
According to Com Res, Tory supporters are the most motivated; 78 per cent are "absolutely certain" compared with 69 per cent of Liberal Democrats and 58 per cent of Labour voters. The top AB social group remains loyal to the Conservatives by a margin of two to one but the Tories are struggling to retain the support of the bottom two C1 and DE groups.
Last night Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, warned Mr Cameron his party would vote down an attempt by a minority Tory government to impose immediate spending cuts in the current financial year. He told the BBC's Newsnight programme: "Of course, I would vote against cuts which would destroy any chance we have of having a sustainable recovery."
ComRes telephoned a random sample of 1004 GB adults on 10-11 April 2010. Data was weighted to be representative of all GB adults. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at www.comres.co.ukReuse content