ED MILIBAND has told voters he is ready to be prime minister, after five years of being “tested” as opposition leader.
Presenting his election manifesto at a rally in Manchester, he said: “It is right that I have been tested for the privilege of leading this country. I am ready.”
But the Labour leader immediately came under fire over the manifesto’s front-page promise not to borrow more and to reduce the deficit in each of his government’s Budget over the next five years.
Mr Miliband refused to say whether this included capital spending, but shadow business secretary Chukka Umunna said it would.
The manifesto was light on specific tax rises or spending cuts, apart from promises to raise the highest rate for those earning £150,000 or more to 50p, to impose a new bank levy and to bring in a mansion tax.
However, the 86-page manifesto made a series of promises, including raising the minimum wage to more than £8 by the end of 2019; a one-year freeze on rail fares, costing £200 million; providing 25 hours of childcare for working parents of three- and four-year-olds and a new right to pre- and after-school help; freezing gas and electricity bills until 2017, so they can only fall not rise; a £2.5 billon fund for the NHS; scrapping winter fuel payments for the richest pensioners; capping child benefit rises and protecting tax credits, and a cut in university tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000
But the biggest pledge was on the opening page of the manifesto, which stated: “The first line of Labour’s first Budget will be: ‘This Budget cuts the deficit every year’.”
The “budget responsibility lock” not only requires every manifesto policy to be paid for without extra borrowing, it would also see legislation brought in to require all major parties to have their manifesto pledges independently audited by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).
In the manifesto’s economic plans, there are repeated mentions of the “cost of living crisis”, a phrase that has been challenged by opponents as the inflation rate has dropped.
Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) director Paul Johnson said that because Labour had not indicated how quickly it intended to achieve its objective, it was unclear what spending cuts or tax rises would be needed.
“The big unknown on the Labour side is how fast they want to get there and therefore do they need significant spending cuts or tax rises at all,” he said.
“They are committed to getting a current budget balance – a current budget surplus – by the end of the parliament. That’s an entirely credible fiscal policy. But they continue not to give us any sense as to how quickly they want to achieve that.
“That could involve significant spending cuts or tax rises over the next three years if they want to get there within the next three years, or it could actually involve no spending cuts in order to just achieve that by the end of the parliament.
“Whilst the ambition is an entirely sensible and credible one, we have got no more details about the speed with which they want to achieve that.”
He said with public sector borrowing running at more than £90bn a year, it was setting an “extremely low hurdle” to say it would come down year on year.
In response to the manifesto launch, the Tories said Labour had left the door open for a £3,000 tax rise by increasing National Insurance, which it dubs the “jobs tax”, and had “paved the way” for a deal with the SNP.
Chancellor George Osborne said: “Ed Miliband failed to provide a credible economic plan and nobody will be fooled.
“There were no new ideas for Britain, and if you read the small print, independent experts like the IFS have confirmed he would run a deficit every year.
“That means more borrowing, more debt and higher taxes.
“Britain doesn’t want to go back to the chaos of the past, and tomorrow the Prime Minister will set out a clear plan full of new ideas for a brighter future.”
Tory chief whip Michael Gove called Labour’s manifesto a “death bed conversion to fiscal responsibility”.
He added: : “It’s got no credibility at all. We know every page in Labour’s manifesto will be subject to sign-off by Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon.
“Labour cannot get into Downing Street except on the coat-tails of the Scottish National Party, so every promise they make today is subject to veto or endorsement by the SNP.
“Labour proposals are not funded and they are not underwritten by the credibility of delivering a strong economy.”
Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: “Labour is still struggling to face up to the economic facts of life. They still believe that you can borrow your way out of debt.
“They have no clear timetable to finish the job of balancing the books. Every single economic prediction they have made has been wrong.”
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