Britain’s ruling Labour Party sought to win new ground in the election battle with a key pledge to freeze income tax, after a first day of campaigning marked by heated clashes on the economy.
British Prime Minister (PM) Gordon Brown revealed the centerpiece of his election manifesto on Wednesday, promising to keep the basic rate of tax on workers’ income the same for his entire term if re-elected.
“The income tax rate has come down from 23 pence [US$0.35] and we have kept it at 20 pence and that is what we will pledge to do in our manifesto,” Brown told Channel 4 television news.
His party was set to finalize the manifesto yesterday for publication next week ahead of the May 6 vote, which commentators predict could be the closest in a generation.
Leader of the main opposition Conservatives, David Cameron, will use his first major press conference of the campaign to promise the creation of a National Citizen Service to help young people volunteer for community work.
Nick Clegg, leader of the third-largest party, the Liberal Democrats, headed to Scotland to give a speech.
The center-left Labour Party is fighting for an historic fourth term against the center-right Tories, who have seen their double-digit opinion poll lead shrink in recent weeks to just a few points.
Two new newspaper opinion polls yesterday suggested Britain was heading for a hung parliament — where no one party has overall control — highlighting how close the race is.
The Times survey, by pollster Populus, put the Tories on 39 percent, Labour on 32 percent and the Liberal Democrats on 21 percent.
The daily poll for the Sun, by pollster YouGov, put the Conservatives on 37 percent, Labour on 32 percent and the Liberal Democrats on 19 percent.
Britain’s recession-hit economy emerged as a major election battleground on Wednesday, with Brown and Cameron trading blows over the issue in their final parliamentary showdown ahead of the vote.
The Conservatives want to scrap Labour’s planned rise in payroll taxes, warning it will damage economic growth and any chance of cutting Britain’s £167 billion (US$254 billion) budget deficit.
The planned tax hike is to a levy known as National Insurance, which is different from income tax.
National Insurance is paid by British employees and employers alongside income tax and builds up entitlement to benefits like a state pension
“This prime minister would wreck the recovery by putting a tax on every job,” Cameron declared.
Brown retorted that scrapping the planned rise in the payroll tax would take billions of pounds out of the economy at a time when it was most fragile.
“To withdraw £6 billion from the economy now would put jobs at risk, put business at risk and put recovery at risk,” he said.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats both focused on another top election issue on Wednesday, unveiling plans to overhaul the political system in the wake of revelations that lawmakers had abused their expenses.
In a speech in central London, Brown pledged fixed-term parliaments — at the moment the government can decide when a general election is called during its five-year term.
He also promised to give voters new powers to recall lawmakers found guilty of financial misconduct and to hold referendums on introducing elected members into the House of Lords, and on changing the voting system.
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