Tories unveil manifesto

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Indy Politics

The Conservatives launched their election manifesto today: a slim volume with no picture of party leader Michael Howard on the cover.

The Conservatives launched their election manifesto today: a slim volume with no picture of party leader Michael Howard on the cover.

Instead, the front is a stark black-and-white list of what Mr Howard called "the simple longings of the British people".

The six - "more police, cleaner hospitals, lower taxes, school discipline, controlled immigration and accountability" - appear hand written.

And they are underlined by the Tories' campaign slogan: "Are you thinking what we're thinking?"

Mr Howard, pictured on the inside cover, writes in his introduction that Britain is "a great country... heading in the wrong direction" under Labour.

Promising to be "ambitious for our country", Mr Howard sets out his vision of a "successful and decent society".

"The people of this country are deprived of the chance to be all they can be. A Conservative government will aspire to give everyone the chance to make the most of their lives.

"We will govern on behalf of the forgotten majority and their values, the people who make up the backbone of our country: people who work hard, save to buy their first home, take responsibility for their families.

"People who do the right thing should be rewarded, not punished."

Pledging that "accountability will be our watchword", he concludes: "This manifesto sets out clearly our priorities for what we will do, how we will pay for it and the values by which we will govern."

At the manifesto's launch, Mr Howard defended its unusual slimness, saying he wanted the public to read it and that more detailed policy had already been published.

The manifesto promises:

* Value for money and lower taxes

A Tory Government would "live within its means", matching Labour spending plans on the NHS, schools, transport and foreign aid but spending 1% less overall per year.

Savings of £12 billion a year by 2007/08 from cutting bureaucracy and quangos would pay to cut borrowing by £8 billion and cut taxes by £4 billion.

Britain would not join the European single currency.

Details of which taxes would be cut have been promised "very soon".

The state pension would be raised in line with earnings and pensioner households given an annual council tax discount of up to £500.

* Flexible childcare and school discipline

Schools would receive an extra £15 billion a year by 2009/10, with schools able to set their own priorities and budgets.

Heads and governors would be given "full control" of admissions and expulsions, with unruly pupils placed in "Turnaround Schools".

An additional 600,000 school places would be provided over five years to allow 100,000 more parents to get their child into their first-choice school.

Student fees would be scrapped.

* Better healthcare and cleaner hospitals

NHS spending would increase by £34 billion - matching Labour - as well as centrally-set targets and bureaucratic bodies being scrapped and front-line staff given more powers.

Patients who choose to go private would have half the cost of the same treatment on the NHS paid by the taxpayer.

The Tories would also give matrons more power to close dirty wards to prevent infection and introduce health checks on immigrants.

* Safer communities and more police

5,000 new police officers would be recruited each year and their paperwork slashed, an extra 20,000 prison places created and early release schemes scrapped and drug rehab places increased tenfold to tackle crime which is "out of control".

Cannabis would be changed back to a Class B drug.

* Secured borders and controlled immigration

Britain would take, from the United Nations, only a fixed number of asylum seekers whose cases would be processed "outside Britain".

The UK would withdraw from the 1951 Geneva Convention to take back control of asylum policy which is "in chaos" and "encourages illegality".

An Australian-style points system for immigration would be introduced with Parliament setting an annual cap on numbers and a new border security force would patrol ports 24 hours a day to secure Britain's borders.

* Accountability

Regional assemblies would be scrapped and powers returned to town halls, the number of MPs cut by 20% and a deal sought for a "substantially-elected House of Lords".

Local councils would be given stronger planning powers to deal with illegal traveller encampments, the right-to-buy scheme will be extended to housing association tenants, speed cameras will be reviewed, and rules on green belt development tightened.

MPs would be given a free vote on whether to overturn the ban on fox hunting.

* Defending our freedoms

Frontline defence spending would be £2.7 billion higher than Labour's plans. Warships and historic regiments would be saved from the axe.

A referendum on the European Union constitution would be held within six months, Britain would not join the euro, an opt-out from the EU's Social Chapter would be restored and fishing policy taken back from Brussels.

The manifesto closes by presenting voters with "the choice at this election".

"The choice before voters is very clear. They can either reward Mr Blair for eight years of broken promises and vote for another five years of talk.

"Or they can vote Conservative to support a party that has taken a stand and is committed to action on the issues that matter to hard-working families."

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