David Cameron vows to deliver 'good life' as part of 'real party of working people'
David Cameron held out the prospect of free childcare for working families and a "tax free minimum wage" as he declared the Conservatives were the "real party of working people".
Unveiling the Conservative election manifesto, the Prime Minister said that after the years of recession and austerity the "good life" was finally at hand as he urged voters not to allow Labour to return the country to "square one".
He said that if the Tories were returned to power after polling day on May 7 they would double the existing free childcare provision for three and four-year-olds saving parents £5,000 a year.
A Conservative government would also legislate to ensure no-one on the minimum wage would pay income tax - automatically uprating personal allowances in line with increases to the basic rate of pay.
Together with the extension of Margaret Thatcher's Right to Buy scheme to 1.3 million housing association tenants - announced overnight - and the promise to lift family homes worth over £1 million out of inheritance tax, they formed the centrepiece of the Conservatives' pitch to voters.
"At the heart of this manifesto is a simple proposition," Mr Cameron said at the launch in Swindon, Wiltshire. "We are the party of working people, offering you security at every stage of your life."
However campaigners immediately questioned the feasibility of the Conservative promise on childcare, saying the existing scheme was already underfunded.
The Liberal Democrats dismissed the Tory plans as a "short-term political con" while Labour leader Ed Miliband rejected their claims to be the workers' party, saying they had always stood for "the richest and most powerful in our society".
After a Conservative campaign that has been criticised as being too negative, Mr Cameron struck a relentlessly positive note in his speech referring 10 times to the "good life" while barely mentioning Labour.
"We are on the brink of something special in our country. These past five years have been a critical period. We have drawn on all the resources of our nation to turn a great recession into a great recovery," he said.
"The next five years are about turning the good news in our economy into a good life for you and your family.
"They're about realising the potential of Britain not as a debt-addicted, welfare-burdened, steadily-declining, once-great nation - which is what we found - but a country where a good life is there for everyone willing to work for it.
"Britain has lived its long life as an exemplary country, the small island with a massive impact, the bright light in the North Sea that has exceeded expectations decade after decade, century after century."
Mr Cameron - who insisted that he did not enter politics to be "some high-powered accountant" just to balance the books said a Conservative government would take anyone earning less than £12,500 out of tax, raise the 50p tax threshold to £50,000 and invest £8 billion-a-year in the NHS.
For the Lib Dems, Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander said the Tories' spending plans would mean "massive cuts" as they finished the job of deficit reduction "solely on the backs of the poorest and by cutting public services".
"The Conservatives are now embarking on an unfunded spending spree that would make even Gordon Brown shudder - which can only be paid for by even more cuts," he said.
"This manifesto is a desperate throw of the dice from a party that knows it can't win the election. It is a drastic lurch away from the balanced approach set by the coalition."
Mr Miliband said that their Right to Buy offer would not work as they had failed to find the money to fund it.
"The reality about the Conservative Party is that they are the party not of working people. First, last and always they are the party of the richest in our society and that is absolutely the case with what they are saying today," he said.
The Pre-school Learning Alliance questioned whether the promise of additional free childcare could be met in practice.
"At the moment, government funding does not cover the cost of delivering 15 hours of childcare for three and four-year-olds, and so it has been left to providers and parents to make up the shortfall," said chief executive Neil Leitch.
"It is difficult to see, therefore, how plans to double the current offer without addressing this historic underfunding can be implemented without leading to even higher childcare costs, or risking the sustainability of the sector altogether."
After unveiling the manifesto, Mr Cameron and wife Samantha visited a couple in north Swindon who have purchased a house using Help to Buy.
Paul Pearson, 36, and Nicole Calver, 32, manage the Dockle Farmhouse pub.
Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said the Conservatives' commitment to achieve an overall budget surplus by 2018 implied "something really dramatic" for public spending.
"We're talking tens and tens of billions of pounds-worth of spending cuts or tax increases even before you start to think about some of the promises that we've heard on the National Health Service, on increasing the personal tax allowance," he told Sky News.
"So what you got was a lot of the good stuff, of course - more money for childcare, more money for the health service and so on - but absolutely no detail on the bad stuff, which is that there are going to have to continue to be really big cuts on welfare spending, really big cuts in local government spending, really big cuts in all the other bits of spending which haven't been specifically protected."
Mr Clegg said no one would believe that the Tories had "suddenly discovered some hitherto entirely hidden passion for social justice".
Accusing the two main parties of "borrowing each other's clothes," he added: "The Labour Party, having said basically nothing about the deficit, suddenly declare their undying commitment to balancing the books but fail to set out a single tax rise or spending decrease to do so.
"The Conservatives suddenly declare that they are some sort of Leninist party for working families and working people and yet their plan would hit those very people very hard and they won't admit to it.
"They will actually take £1,500 off the eight million poorest families in this country. Their plan, far from helping working people, would hit the strivers and those on low incomes who are working to get by.
"Both the Conservative and Labour parties are making wildly implausible claims which no one is going to believe.
"No one is going to believe that David Cameron and George Osborne have suddenly discovered some hitherto entirely hidden passion for social justice.
"No one is going to believe that Ed Miliband has suddenly discovered some hitherto hidden passion for balancing the books."
He continued: "I don't think you shed, in the Conservatives' case, years and years of well-deserved reputation for being indifferent to the plight of the poor, or in Labour's case a well-deserved reputation for being indifferent to balancing the books, you don't do that through smoke and mirrors at a manifesto launch from a standing start."
A poll suggested that voters did not appreciate the Tories' personal targeting of Mr Miliband - with a 53% majority rejecting the principle that attacks on character were helpful in making the choice of who to vote for.
Mr Cameron has defended Defence Secretary Michael Fallon's much-criticised declaration that the Labour leader had stabbed his brother in the back for the Labour leadership and would do the same to the UK to win power.
While voters in a ComRes survey for ITV said that Mr Miliband would "stop at nothing to get into power" (40% to 32%) said they strongly disagreed (51% to 23%) that taking on his brother for the top job showed "bad moral character".
And by 46% to 33% they said the attacks showed the Tories to be "the nasty party", with 30% branding the party's campaign "dirty" to 20% saying the same of Labour's.
The findings - taken before the parties launched their manifestos - suggested both parties have a way to go to enthuse the country however, with around a third of voters branding both campaigns "boring" and 17% claiming not to have been aware of them at all.
Confidence in Labour to run the economy has risen slightly from 24% to 26% since March 20 though the Opposition remains well behind the Conservatives by 26% to 39% - but is ahead by the same margin on the NHS.
Ukip - on 39% - is more trusted to control immigration than the three main Westminster parties together.
ComRes interviewed 2,036 adults online from April 10-12 and data was weighted to be representative of all GB adults.
The launch of the Tory manifesto included a video entitled The Note, referring to the notorious letter left by Labour former Treasury minister Liam Byrne, in which he said there was no money left.
Mr Byrne declined to comment about the latest use of his note by the Conservatives.