Cameron vows to deliver power to the people

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David Cameron today promised to deliver power to the people as he launched a Conservative manifesto for the General Election which invites voters to "join the Government of Britain".

Unveiling a programme designed to deliver "economic recovery and growth, a strong society and radical political reform", Mr Cameron said the state could not overcome Britain's problems without the "active participation" of its people.

"This is a manifesto for a new kind of politics and a new kind of country," said the Tory leader at a glitzy launch in London's Battersea power station.

"Together we can get rid of our debts, get the economy moving, mend our broken society - even make politics and politicians work better. And if we can do that, we can do anything. Together, we can do anything."

The manifesto promised new powers for public sector workers to run their services as co-operatives; for parents to set up academy schools; for voters to sack MPs; for residents to veto council tax rises; for communities to buy under-threat post offices and for citizens to elect police chiefs.

It put the £6 billion reversal of Labour's National Insurance hike at the heart of an economic strategy to eliminate "the bulk" of Britain's strategic deficit by the end of the Parliament, with a "credible plan" to be set out in an emergency Budget within 50 days of taking office.

But it failed to match Labour's pledge not to raise income tax.

And it made no mention of VAT, which Labour and Liberal Democrats claim the Tories will have to raise to 20% to fund their plans.

Gordon Brown said there was "a complete hole" in the Tory plans, which would put Britain's economic recovery at risk and "leave people on their own to face the recession".

Tories were offering "public spending cuts, nothing for growth, jobs at risk, and a lack of fairness", said the Prime Minister, adding: "All the words, all the rhetoric, all the soft music will not disguise the fact that the Conservative Party's policies are the same as the policies that we had to get rid of in 1997."

And Labour's chief of election strategy Lord Mandelson accused Tories of "Santa Claus economics" which would create a new age of austerity.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said the Tories were "all style and no substance" and today's manifesto was trying to convince voters they could have "something for nothing".

Mr Clegg unveiled his own plans to crack down on "obscene" bankers' bonuses, requiring those worth more than £2,500 to be paid in shares and banning them altogether at board level.

Mr Brown reignited the row over legal aid for three former Labour MPs facing court over their expenses, when he claimed the men would have to pay the money back - something which the Law Society insisted was a matter for the judge. But he was boosted by a £400,000 donation to Labour's campaign from enterprise tsar Lord Sugar.

Mr Cameron ran into a smaller controversy of his own when the drummer of rock band Keane said he was "horrified" the Tories had used their hit Everybody's Changing without asking permission at the Battersea launch. Richard Hughes told his Twitter followers: "We were not asked. I will not vote for them."

"Change" was a major theme as Mr Cameron issued a direct appeal to former supporters of other parties to switch to the Tories on May 6.

"Labour have lost their way. The Liberals have little to say," he said.

"So it falls to us, the modern Conservative Party, to lead the change our country needs today."

Conservatives have "returned to the centre ground of British politics, and that is where we will stay".

Rejecting Mr Brown's claim that voters had to choose between a progressive or a conservative future, he described his party as "unashamedly progressive Conservative".

And he distanced himself from Margaret Thatcher's claim that there is "no such thing as society", by saying he believed in "we, the people, coming together... not just the state, not just the individual, but society. We stand for society".

Today's manifesto, printed as a hardback pamphlet with the title Invitation To Join The Government Of Britain on a sober plain blue cover, was "the biggest call to arms this country has seen in a generation", said Mr Cameron.

He promised to replace Labour's top-down "Big Government" approach with a "Big Society" in which ordinary people can exercise responsibility in taking decisions on their own lives.

Measures in the manifesto included a "deep clean" of Westminster politics, a vote to repeal the hunting ban, reform of financial regulation, a "fair fuel stabiliser", an annual cap on non-EU immigration and referendums on any future transfer of power from Westminster to Brussels.

Tories promised to protect spending on health and international aid, and confirmed plans to freeze public sector pay for a year, cut Whitehall costs by one-third, raise the retirement age to 66 and cut tax credits and child trust funds for the better-off.

"We don't just want your votes," said Mr Cameron. "We don't just seek your support. We seek your active participation - every day, in every way - in the running of our country.

"Let's get together to make our country better. Let's reject the path of decline. Let's change our future, let's do it together."