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Indy Politics

It was the Conservatives' big day, with all eyes focused on the party's manifesto launch.

The Prime Minister told voters that Britain was booming and that the nation could look forward to undreamed-of prosperity.

Key pledges in the manifesto included tax breaks for married couples in which one partner stays at home; cuts in public spending and tax, and a tough stance on Europe.

The Conservatives promised a guarantee of school standards for parents; the expansion of specialist schools; and education vouchers for 14-21 year-olds.

They also guaranteed that funding would increase in real terms every year for the next five years, and on housing, the Conservatives pledged that half the remaining public housing stock would be sold off to housing associations or other private landlords.

Labour used its morning press conference to condemn the Conservatives' performance since 1992.

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, launched their policies on health. They promised pounds 550m extra for the NHS from a new tobacco tax and National Insurance changes; a pay review body for doctors and nurses; and more family-friendly employment policies in the public services.


The Conservatives' promise of extra tax allowances to promote the family was the top debating point of the day.

John Major said that the plans would give proper recognition to the role played by many parents and carers in meeting their family responsibilities.

However, Paddy Ashdown attacked the plan, claiming that the Conservatives would not be able to find the money to carry it out.

The scheme has been priced by some commentators at pounds 3.4 bn, but its authors estimate it will only cost pounds 1.2 bn. Mr Ashdown branded the document "a manifesto for the few, not the many".

Meanwhile, the shadow Chancellor, Gordon Brown, said a promise to help families was not credible from a Government which had nearly halved the married couple's allowance in five years.

At Labour's press conference, he and Labour's trade and industry secretary, Margaret Beckett, highlighted 92 promises which they claimed the Conservatives had broken since 1992.

Mr Brown accused the Government of presenting uncosted pledges on tax cuts "without the faintest idea of how to pay for them".

However, a confident Mr Major made it plain that his aim was not just to move into "the next phase of Conservative prosperity".


Swampy, the "eco-warrior" who fooled journalists earlier this week by saying he was standing in the general election as an April Fool, was praised by Paddy Ashdown for his persistence.

The Liberal Democrat leader, who was holding a press conference near to Manchester airport where Swampy is campaigning against a second runway, said "I admire [protesters'] determination to stick to their principles."

Dafydd Wigley, leader of Plaid Cymru, saw the launch of his party's manifesto postponed by a full week, although the party was not expecting the delay to dent their poll showing. Labour too had delayed their launch, for just a day, saying they did not wish to be seen to clash with the Conservatives. "I wish we could be that devious," commented a party member, before attributing PC's lateness to straightforward logistical difficulties.


Michael Howard, the Home Secretary visited a newly opened cycle route in his constituency at Folkestone, Kent, and assembled photographers asked him to line up with a group of local children for a photo-call. The children were predictably asked to say "Cheese." Onlookers, including representatives of a local press agency, were later unanimous in their assertion that the children responded by chorusing "Sleaze."


"We, the Conservatives, respect people's choice and within the family, if that family choose to have one person staying at home to look after the children and the other going out to work to maintain the family, the tax system should acknowledge that." Chancellor Kenneth Clarke, explaining why the Tories now promise tax relief for married couples, having phased it out and insisted women's tax affairs should be separate from their husbands' a few years ago.


The Scottish National Party launched their election campaign, encouraged by an opinion poll which showed they had more than twice the level of local support than the Conservatives.

"We are better organised, better financed, and more solidly based than ever before," Alex Salmond, the SNP leader told a news conference.

Meanwhile, Alan Sked, leader of the UK Independence Party, said his party had a unique problem: "We are very pure, but I don't want people to think that because we are sleaze-free, we have no knowledge of sex."


Not surprisingly the launch of the Conservative manifesto dominated all the news bulletins, with Mr Major himself doing the Radio 4 Today programme BBC Breakfast News, BBC local radio, ITN's early evening news, Sky News, Channel 4, and Channel 5. He attempted to shift the focus away from sleaze and on to policies outlined in the manifesto, but was not altogether successful. On the Today programme, he accused John Humphrys of "hijacking" the interview because he insisted on questioning the Prime Minister about cash-for-questions and sex-scandal allegations .