Manifesto launch: 'Labour is in the future business'

So declared Gordon Brown as he launched the party's election manifesto yesterday. But, reports Andrew Grice, his plans felt more like an extension of the policies championed by his predecessor
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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown declared that Labour was "in the future business" as he trumpeted measures to allow the public to remove failing schools, hospitals and police managers as part of his party's election manifesto announced yesterday.

Insisting that Labour had not run out of steam after 13 years in power, the Prime Minister admitted that the party faced "the fight of our lives" but claimed that its forward-looking prospectus offered a programme of "national renewal". The manifesto commits Labour to extending the public service reforms championed by Tony Blair, making its central theme the driving up of standards to those of the best by removing poor managements.

Schools, hospitals and police forces could all be taken over by neighbouring or other successful organisations providing the same service – with bosses, including chief constables, sacked. "I want guaranteed standards for every citizen in every public service, with robust redress if they fail and with the best taking over those that aren't making the grade," said Mr Brown.

He launched the manifesto at a soon-to-open £574m Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, prompting a complaint by the Conservatives that Labour had broken rules saying that National Health Service facilities should not be used during election campaigns.

Mr Brown replied: "This is a building that is held by the construction firm, that will be passed on to the NHS in the next few weeks."

A confident Mr Brown hailed the manifesto as "ambitious but affordable, bold but realistic". But David Cameron, the Tory leader, said: "There's nothing new there. There's nothing different there. There's no real change there."

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said Labour was repeating promises of fairness and a new politics they had made at 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 the manifesto gave no certainty on the size and combination of tax rises and spending cuts envisaged to meet Labour's pledge to halve Britain's £167bn 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. "It listed a few tax increases that it promised not to implement, but left the door wide open to many others."

The key points in the manifesto include:

IMPROVING SCHOOLS

Promise of "a choice of good schools in every area". Where parents are not satisfied, they will have the power to trigger a ballot on bringing in a new school leadership team from a "proven and trusted accredited provider" through a merger or takeover. Up to 1,000 secondary schools would be part of such an accredited schools group by 2015.

Every pupil leaving primary school is "secure in the basics," with a "three Rs" guarantee of one-to-one and small-group tuition for every child falling behind. In secondary school, every pupil would have a personal tutor and a choice of good qualifications.

Every young person to be guaranteed education or training until 18, with 75 per cent going on to higher education, or completing an advanced apprenticeship or technician level training, by the age of 30.



IMPROVING THE NHS AND SOCIAL CARE

Legally binding guarantees for patients including the right to cancer test results within one week of referral, and a maximum 18 weeks' wait for treatment or the offer of going private.

Preventative healthcare through routine check-ups for the over-40s and a major expansion of diagnostic testing.

All hospitals to become foundation trusts, with successful ones given the support and incentives to take over those that are underperforming. Trusts given freedom to expand into primary and community care and to increase their private services, where these are consistent with NHS values and if they generate surpluses that are invested in NHS.

Promise to introduce a new National Care Service to ensure free care in the home for those with the greatest care needs. A cap on the cost of residential care so that everyone's homes and savings were protected from charges after two years in a home.



IMPROVING THE POLICE

"Swift action" to be taken when police do not perform well. Where a police force or local basic command unit (BCU) consistently fails local people, Labour would ensure "either that the senior management team including the borough commander or chief constable is replaced, or it is taken over by a neighbouring force or BCU."

Legislation to give victims of anti-social behaviour financial support to pursue legal injunctions, with the costs met by the police, council, courts or other agency that let them down.



IMMIGRATION

"As growth returns we want to see rising levels of employment and wages, not rising immigration," the manifesto says. English test for would-be immigrants to be made harder. Labour would ensure that all public sector employees who have contact with the public have "an appropriate level of English language competence."



TAXES

Pledge not to raise the 20p in the pound, 40p and 50p rates of tax. Renews previous promise not to extend scope of VAT to food, children's clothes, books, newspapers and public transport fares, but stops short of saying rate will remain at 17.5 per cent.



CREATING A NEW ECONOMY

Pledge to build a hi-tech economy, supporting business and industry to create one million more skilled jobs and modernising our infrastructure with High Speed Rail, a Green Investment Bank and broadband access for all.

Target to achieve about 40 per cent low-carbon electricity by 2020 and create 400,000 new green jobs by 2015. New rules for takeovers, with government allowed to intervene in "public interest" in those affecting utilities and infrastructure. Would require a super-majority of two-thirds of shareholders in corporate takeovers.

Northern Rock could be turned back into building society under a drive to boost "mutualism". Labour would secure the best deal for the taxpayer from stakes in publicly controlled banks; introduce a new global levy on banks; and reform the rules for banking to ensure no repeat of past irresponsibility.



WORK AND FAMILIES

National minimum wage to rise at least in line with average earnings, and a new £40-a-week "better off in work" guarantee. Higher "living wage" paid by Whitehall departments to lowest-paid workers such as cleaners.

Create 200,000 jobs through the Future Jobs Fund, with a job or training place for young people who are out of work for six months. Benefits cut at 10 months if they refuse a place; and anyone unemployed for more than two years guaranteed work, but no option of life on benefits.

Paid paternity leave doubled from two weeks to a "father's month". Labour would work with employers to see how it could be taken flexibly – for example, by taking first two weeks round time of the birth and the remaining two during first year of baby's life.

Pledge to introduce new "toddler tax credit" of £4 a week from 2012 to give more support to all parents of young children – whether they want to stay at home or work.



IMPROVING DEMOCRACY

"Double referendum" on same day on whether to move to Australian-style Alternative Vote for elections to the House of Commons (in which voters mark candidates in order preference) and to a democratic and accountable House of Lords. A free vote in Parliament on reducing the voting age from 18 to 16. Legislation to ensure parliaments sit for a fixed term and an all-party commission to chart a course to a written constitution. A statutory register of lobbyists, with MPs banned from working for lobbying companies and required to seek approval for paid outside appointments.

Labour's promises Were they kept?

1997: 'New Life for Britain'

Tony Blair won power in 1997 promising "Education, education, education". The manifesto began with the words "we will clean up politics", which sounds sick today. It also promised to end the hereditary principle in the House of Lords (something still to be achieved) and to "reform party funding to end sleaze"... before the "cash for peerages" row. Labour had more success with its pledge card to cut class sizes to 30 or under for pupils aged five to seven, cut NHS waiting lists by treating an extra 100,000 patients, get 250,000 under-25-year-olds off benefit and into work, and set tough rules for government spending and borrowing. A new minimum wage for the low-paid was also promised.

Verdict 4 out of 5 on delivery, good start, but could do better.

2001: 'Ambitions for Britain'

Tony Blair won a second term on a manifesto promising "Mortgages as low as possible, low inflation, sound public finances, an increase in the minimum wage to £4.20, and to bring in a new trust fund for every child at birth." Most of these pledges were kept: inflation was kept low, and the public finances did not go totally awry until 2008/9. However, it did not mention that national insurance contributions would be increased in 2002 to pay for increases in NHS spending and it did not anticipate 9/11 and the war in Iraq, leading to a surge in defence spending. The manifesto again promised there would be "no rise in the top or basic rate of income tax". That has now been broken by Gordon Brown, with the 50p in the £ tax band on the rich. The pledge card promised 10,000 extra teachers and higher standards in secondary schools; 20,000 extra nurses and 10,000 extra doctors in a reformed NHS; and 6,000 extra recruits to raise police numbers to their highest ever level.

Verdict 3 out of 5 – much done, but much more to do.

2005: 'Britain forward not back'

The manifesto promised to cut NHS waiting times to 18 weeks for treatment. The target was met for 98 per cent of patients, but doctors argued that the targets were distorting delivery. On the economy, the manifesto promised: "We will continue to meet our fiscal rules, over the economic cycle, we will borrow only to invest." But it did not anticipate the worst recession, according to Alastair Darling, for "60 years". Tony Blair offered a set of pledges that sounded like platitudes: "Your family better off, Your family treated better and faster, Your child achieving more, Your country's borders protected, Your community safer, Your children with the best start." We now know that immigration soared. The manifesto also promised ID cards which were not introduced.

Verdict 3 out of 5. Much delivered but at what cost?

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