Cameron promises married couples tax break will be in Conservative manifesto

David Cameron gave a rousing speech (without the use of notes) to the Conservative Spring conference in Brighton, and promised that details of the tax break to be offered to married couples would be provided in the Conservative manifesto in the lead up to the General Election.

He began by saying he recognised the election was always going to be close, a straight choice between Labour and the Conservatives, between Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

Mr Cameron stressed how proud he was of his shadow cabinet, and singled out shadow chancellor George Osborne for praise saying he was "someone who’s got the courage to deal with our deficit and with our debt."

He then went on to recognise Ken Clarke’s experience and Theresa May’s passion to get the country working again. Mr Cameron emphasised the need for continuity, stressing that while Labour had changed Defence Secretary numerous times during the war in Afghanistan, the Conservatives had stuck with their shadow Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, who David Cameron said would be a brilliant Secretary of State for Defence.

He also reminded the audience they had stuck with shadow Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, and shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague.

He then spoke of his visit to Afghanistan to visit the UK troops there and his pride in their professionalism.

He then told the assembled Tory faithful that it was their patriotic duty to turn the economy around and give this country a better future.

David Cameron then said he wanted to show how the Conservatives had changed – how he and his team had modernised the party to get back in touch with the country as a whole.

Then he went on to say how the Conservatives with their green
policies were now the new environmental party in Britain.

David Cameron then emphasised that at the next General Election there would be more women candidates, more black and ethic minority candidates, reflecting the diversity of the modern Conservative party.

On the economy, he reiterated his promise to have a budget within 50 days of the election. A budget he said which would deal with the deficit but would also inspire growth and innovation by helping business. This would be done by cutting the main rate of corporation tax, and cutting the small company rate of corporation tax. He also repeated George Osborne’s pledge to scrap National Insurance on the new businesses setting up on the first ten jobs that they take on for a year.

He then moved on to families and said the Conservatives would set out how they would recognise marriage in the tax system, how they would support couples in the benefits system, and how they would recruit a new army of health visitors to "help mum and dad when the new child arrives".

On the National Health Service, David Cameron said the Conservatives would cut bureaucracy and judge health professionals on the results they achieved.
He went on to say the Conservatives would have the most radical programme for reforming education that any party has produced at a recent election.

Mr Cameron continued "As we need to be radical in reforming our schools, so we need to be radical in reforming our welfare system. It’s simple, we are compassionate Conservatives, we believe in helping those who cannot help themselves. If you cannot work, you deserve to be supported, you deserve support that can allow you to lead a reasonable and good quality of life. If you can work, and find it hard to work, we will help you, we will train you, we will unleash the private and voluntary sectors, who will often do it better than the state. But if you can work, you are offered work, and you don’t choose to work, you cannot go on claiming benefits as before."

On the MPs expenses scandal, Mr Cameron said they would look to reduce the number of MPs and reduce Ministerial pay.

Conservative lead slips to 2 points over Labour

David Cameron had to use every ounce of his ability to stir his supporters into action today as a shock MORI poll for the Sunday Times showed his Conservative party lead had slipped to just 2 points over Labour.

While it is always dangerous to take one poll in isolation, there is an undoubted narrowing of the gap between the parties in recent polls, with several polls in the last week showing the gap to be less than 8 points.

The YouGov/Sunday Times survey places David Cameron’s Conservatives on 37%, as against 35% for Labour — the closest gap between the parties since Gordon Brown’s ‘honeymoon’ period after he took over the role of Prime Minister from his predecessor Tony Blair.

The latest poll results would be enough to ensure Gordon Brown remained in No 10 after the election, giving Labour a total of 317 seats, just nine short of an overall majority, with the Conservatives having only 263 MPs.

Given these figures, Gordon Brown would almost certainly remain in control of a Labour minority Government which would rely on support from the Liberal Democrats and other minority parties to win key votes in the House of Commons.

Speaking to the Sunday Times at the Conservatives’ Spring conference in Brighton, David Cameron insisted he was unconcerned about the collapse in Tory support. "The polls move around a lot," he said "The voters tell us that they want change. They want to know the Conservative party itself has changed."

In the last election, in 2005, support for the parties generally held steady in the run-up to polling day. YouGov polls in The Sunday Times showed Labour leads of between two and five points from January through to the June election. At the General Election Labour’s margin of victory was three points.

Today’s poll shows Labour up two points on last week, and the Conservatives down two points. The Liberal Democrats are unchanged on 17%.

The collapse in the Conservatives poll lead could put pressure on the pound in financial markets tomorrow by adding to fears that a hung parliament will mean insufficient action is taken to cut the budget deficit.

Conservatives will be disappointed that the poll results also suggest that recent claims about Gordon Brown’s alleged bullying may have actually helped him. According to the poll just 28% of people believe Gordon Brown is a bully.

Gordon Brown defends his position at Welsh Labour Conference

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has addressed the Welsh Labour Conference in Swansea, and used the opportunity to defend Labour decisions on the economic crisis, counter personal accusations of bullying and set out Labour policies for the coming General Election.

While the Conservatives at their conference in Brighton were launching their campaign slogan of ‘Vote for Change’, Mr Brown said that a Tory government would “short-change” families and that the only truth in the Conservatives claim to be the party of change was that they keep "changing their mind."

Gordon Brown questioned Conservatives ability to change when some of their policies were to legalise fox hunting, cut inheritance tax and retain the structure of the House of Lords – all of which were, he said, policies that had defined the Tories for the last 100 years.

Mr Brown went on to defend the Government’s record on tackling the recession, saying it had made the right decision to rescue failing banks and to nationalise Northern Rock.

And after a week of allegations of bullying, Gordon Brown joked that he had been accused of everything short of killing Archie Mitchell in EastEnders. "I promise, I didn’t even lay a finger on him," he said.

Mr Brown contrasted Labour’s approach to the economy with that of the Conservatives, saying that he and the Government had faced ideological opposition from the Conservatives who had been proved wrong at every occasion during the recession.

He emphasised that the savings of ordinary families had been protected "by a decision made by a Labour Government on behalf of and with the support of the British people".

Opposing Conservative plans to make public spending cuts immediately after the General Election, Mr Brown said Brown said that under Labour public investment would be maintained throughout the year "until the road to recovery is assured".

David Cameron tells electorate to Vote for Change

David Cameron is using this weekend’s Conservative Spring Conference in Brighton to tell voters that they should ‘Vote for Change’ at this year’s General Election.

He has also set out the Conservative’s six key policy areas on which they will fight the General Election:

Act now on debt to get the economy moving

Already emphasised today by shadow chancellor George Osborne, Mr Cameron will stress how the Conservatives will start to address the debt problem immediately after the election, and not wait until the spring of 2011 to take action. They say that dealing with the deficit earlier will keep interest rates (and hence mortgage rates) lower for longer.

Get Britain working by boosting enterprise

The Conservatives say they will cut corporation tax rates by 3p and cut the rate for small companies to 20p, abolish National Insurance for a year on the first ten jobs created by new businesses, promote green climate friendly jobs and put more effort into getting people off benefits and into work.

Make Britain the most family friendly country in Europe

Freeze council tax and increase the basic state pension. Recognise marriage both in the tax system and by making improvements to benefits for couples. Increase the number of health visitors to provide more support for young families. Increase the fight against crime.

Raise standards in schools

Create new, smaller, schools, and give teachers increased powers to enforce discipline in the classroom.

Change politics

Reduce the number of MPs, cut the size of Whitehall and the number of quangos by a third, and give taxpayers more transparency on where their money is being spent.

Conservative MPs at the spring conference denied they were worried by Labour’s climb in the opinion polls, and said they thought this was actually "good news" as it would help them motivate their supporters to go out and vote on Election day.

David Cameron to use Spring Conference to strengthen election campaign

With heavy rain and strong winds set to batter Brighton this weekend, David Cameron will be hoping that the bright days of spring will improve his party’s standings in the polls to increase the gap between the Conservatives and Labour and ensure a Conservative victory at the General Election.

With rumours of growing discontent within his own ranks echoing in his ears, Mr Cameron will seek to reassure the gathered MPs and party activitists that he is a safe pair of hand and will not lose this once-in-a-generation chance to seize power.

David Cameron met his inner circle including George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, Steve Hilton, the head of strategy, and Andy Coulson, the head of communications in Notting Hill this week to discuss ways to give more focus to an election campaign that has stuttered and occasionally backfired since its launch at the start of the year.

With opinion polls showing the Conservative lead over Labour shrinking to just seven points, Conservative grandees are wary that Gordon Brown could announce an early poll, possibly as early as Thursday March 25th.

A well timed announce could fire a shot across the bows of David Cameron’s conference speech on Sunday, but Gordon Brown’s aides have been keen to stress this week that they are unaware of any such plans.

While David Cameron may be seeking to reinvigorate the Conservative campaign, in the Labour camp a few voices have begun to think the previously unthinkable, that they could not only force a hung parliament, but that Gordon Brown could actually win them a new fourth term of Labour Government.

Sources say that Labour’s internal polling suggests Mr Brown has not been damaged by the recent No 10 bullying claims.

Conservative sources meanwhile insist that morale remains high at the top and that their own internal polls in key marginal seats show Mr Cameron and his party to still have a good lead.

Recent mistakes such as Mr Cameron’s mistake on teenage pregnancy statistics, allied to policy blunders, such as his self-confessed mistake on the marriage tax, have raised questions about the professionalism of the Conservative campaign.

In a speech tomorrow, shadow chancellor George Osborne will reinforce the Conservative’s commitment to cut the budget deficit in 2010.

Conservatives and Ulster Unionists agree parliamentary candidates

The Conservatives and the Ulster Unionist Party have agreed on nine of their joint candidates for the 2010 general election.

The nine prospective parliamentary candidates include former TV presenter Mike Nesbitt who will be the joint Conservative and Unionist candidate in Strangford.

Daphne Trimble has been nominated by both the Conservative and Ulster Unionist parties to stand in Lagan Valley.

Northern Ireland Assembly members Danny Kennedy and John McAlister have also been endorsed by both parties.

Harry Hamilton has been selected for Upper Bann, Sandra Overend for Mid Ulster and Ross Hussey will be the joint candidate in West Tyrone.

Bill Manwaring will be the candidate for West Belfast, while former rugby international Trevor Ringland will be the joint Conservative and Ulster Unionist candidate in East Belfast.

Electoral Commission issues an how to vote instruction leaflet for General Election

The Electoral Commission has released a handy leaflet which provides details for voters on how to register for a vote, and how to cast their vote (whether in person, by post or by proxy) at the 2010 General Election.

The leaflet can be downloaded from the Electoral Commission website here.

ICM Guardian poll puts Conservative support at 2 year low

The latest monthly ICM/Guardian poll has shown the Conservatives with their lowest poll rating for almost 2 years.

The new ICM poll shows the Conservatives on 37% (down 3%), Labour on 30% (up 1%), the Liberal Democrats on 20% (down 1%) and other parties on 13% (up 3%)

This is the second poll in a week to show support for David Cameron and the Conservative party declining, and is another strong pointer to the General Election resulting in a hung parliament. The Conservatives have not fallen so low in an ICM poll since the tail-end of the banking crisis, last falling to 37% in February 2008.

The results will be viewed with concern by David Cameron but will doubtless come as a relief to Gordon Brown as he continues to fend off the No 10 bullying accusations.

In an interview in the Economist, Gordon Brown has given his first direct response since Andrew Rawnsley’s allegations were published. "The cabinet secretary has made it clear that he’s had no inquiries, there’s been no reprimand, there’s been no private message to me … (The) story is completely wrong," Gordon Brown said.

There was also some indication that the Conservatives may be losing their campaign against Labour’s so-called death tax. According to the ICM poll, Labour leads the Tories by eight points as the party considered to have the best policy on care for the elderly.

The two parties are neck-and-neck on their ability to sort out the economic crisis, against a nine-point Conservative lead when the question was last asked in August 2009.

Labour’s static poll position is not all good news for Gordon Brown – the ICM poll shows no boost for the party after his emotional and revealing ITV interview with Piers Morgan.

Nick Clegg’s hopes of the Liberal Democrats wielding power in a hung parliament are also boosted by the poll, which puts the Liberal Democrats on 20%, down one point on last month’s Guardian poll.

All this suggests Labour and the Liberal Democrats are holding steady, while the Conservatives are losing ground to smaller parties. Nationalists are on 5%, UKIP and the Green Party on 3% each and the BNP on 2%.

ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1,004 adults by telephone on 19-21 February 2010. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules

Gordon Brown bullying allegations refuse to go away

The allegations that Gordon Brown is a bully towards staff at No 10 refuse to go away.

The first to accuse Gordon Brown of being a bully was political commentator Andrew Rawnsley in his new book. He says that Gordon Brown had angrily taken the place of a secretary who he felt was typing too slowly, and had taken hold of one of his aides by their jacket lapels and manhandled them across the office. He went on to claim that the Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell had needed to have a private word with Gordon Brown to warn the Prime Minister that his behaviour was unacceptable.

This prompted Sir Gus to issue a statement on Monday denying that there was any truth in the allegation.

Normally this would probably have been enough to see the allegations die a natural death, but Christine Pratt, founder of the National Bullying Helpline, contacted her local BBC radio station to claim that a number of No 10 staff had contacted her charity to seek help and advice regarding workplace bullying (though she stopped short of alleging that it was Gordon Brown himself who had been the bully).

However, this may have backfired on Ms Pratt, as Monday saw all of the trustees of her charity (which included Tory MP Anne Widdecombe) resign, in what they saw to be a clear breach of client confidentiality by Ms Pratt.

Nonetheless, Conservative leader David Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg both called for there to be a formal inquiry into the No 10 bullying allegations.

For the Government, Lord Mandelson said that the allegations were without foundation and that there were currently no plans for an inquiry.

Conservatives to offer bank shares to woo voters

George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, has announced that should the Conservatives win the election, they would offer cheap shares to small investors when the Government’s £70 billion stake in Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group is sold (though some would argue that since the shares were bought with public money by current Chancellor Alistair Darling, they already belong to the small investors anyway).

"The bankers have had their bonuses," George Osborne said in an interview with The Sunday Times. "We want a people’s bank bonus for the people’s money that was put into these organisations.". He said it was now time for a "people’s bonus".

While shares in Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds are currently trading 30% below what the Treasury paid for them, City analysts expect the market will recover and a sell-off could begin within three years.

While final details of the Tory plan are still being drawn up, it is expected that small investors would be offered shares worth between a few hundred and a few thousand pounds at a discount on the market price.

The shares would be offered through the Isa scheme, so any dividends and capital gains would be tax-free. Extra special deals would be offered to young people and families on low incomes. There could also be special discounts for parents saving for their children.

The scale of the bank sell-off would dwarf Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s privatisations of British Telecom and British Gas.

For Labour, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne said: "When it comes to the shares in the banks the public expect us to focus on getting their money back. That means selling them at a time and way that maximises their value, not an irresponsible and expensive political gimmick."

For the Liberal Democrats, Treasury spokesman Vince Cable said that it was expected to be several years before the banks could be sold off, so "dangling this prospect" was "electioneering at its most cynical".

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