Some people say that George Osborne is useless on the 50p tax rate. They say: why won't he give a clear commitment to scrap it - and in his first budget, too?
If they read the manifesto, they might be pleasantly surprised. (I've been steadily poring through since yesterday: you can never be sure what you'll find in the detail - and won't find, in one or two cases.)
Certainly, the 50p rate won't go in the first budget:
"We will not abolish it for the rich while at the same time asking many of our public sector workers to accept a pay freeze", the manifesto says.
But it also contains the golden words:
"We do not regard the 50p tax rate as a permanent feature of the tax system."
It's of course possible that a Conservative Government will be elected with a clear majority, govern for four years, leave the 50p rate in place, and say in 2014: "Well, we've always made it clear that we don't regard the 50p tax rate as a permanent feature of the system. And that's our view going forward into a second term."
But I doubt it. It's telling that the 50p rate is mentioned at all - the manifesto could have ducked the issue, just - and significant that it's referred to in the same section as prospective tax cuts: the raising of the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million, the raising of the stamp duty threshold to £250,000, the partially transferable personal allowance for married couples and civic partners, and so on.
A fair assessment would be that Osborne is paving the way to scrap the 50p rate during the middle-to-late years of a first Conservative term - when a pay freeze is no longer in place, and at roughly the same time as those other tax pledges are honoured.
This is just as well, because the tax system mustn't be permanently burdened by new disincentives to earn, make money and accumulate wealth.
David Cameron will be pleased with the press coverage of yesterday's manifesto launch.
He is widely credited with bringing a lack-lustre contest to life and, in the words of The Daily Telegraph, giving us a Big Idea to tussle over.
He has also framed the terms of the debate - Big Society versus Big State - and one that works to his advantage.
To a greater or lesser extent, The Sun, Telegraph, Express, Mail and Times are all on board. Even The Guardian was generous about the Tory pitch.
"The new manifesto is a liberal Tory prospectus from a party which wants to capture the centre ground in an election it believes it can win," said its editorial.
The Times signalled that it will be supporting Cameron come polling day.
“Manifestos are expected to be boring. This one is not. It is thought-provoking, imaginative and intelligent."
"It is worldly, open-minded and peppered with ideas from other countries. It is pragmatic, but it is more than merely a ragbag of policies. In the parlous state of the economy and the public finances, there is an opportunity to unleash entrepreneurial spirit and reshape the State.
"In the Conservative Party there is a group of people making a powerful case that good government can cost less and do more.”
The Mail will worry Cameron though. Outstripped only by The Sun in circulation terms, it is Middle England's favourite paper and one read most widely by women, generally reckoned to hold the key to the outcome of this election. No wonder that three female members of the Shadow Cabinet featured in yesterday's warm-up act for Cameron.
Once again the Mail does not put the Tories on page one. It doesn't even give him a front page picture - unlike the Express. And its leader is lukewarm by tabloid standards.
He wasn't one of the shadow cabinet ministers invited to address the 90 minute launch. He sat near the back of the stage but I rang Oliver last night to congratulate him on the Tory manifesto. Without Steve Hilton's enthusiasm the manifesto would never have happened but it is the Tory Head of Policy who is the intellectual force behind this document.
Daniel Finkelstein reaches the same conclusion in The Times;
"Letwin’s manifesto — with its claim to a big idea, its policies for handing back power to communities, its talk of a Big Society — definitely comes from the modern too-clever- by-half faction of the Conservative Party. And with its emphasis on a smaller State, its methods owe much to the Thatcherites. But with its interests in nurturing the softer virtues — compassion, community, group spirit, kindness, neighbourliness — it has moved beyond Thatcherism."
Oliver has been a hugely important influence on the whole Cameron project. He was, as Danny writes, the first shadow cabinet minister to back David Cameron's leadership bid. His caution about cutting tax; his enthusiasm for green issues; his desire to reach out to the Liberal Democrats; his support for greater redistribution have all become hallmarks of Cameronism.
Despite the suggestion that Samantha Cameron was the author of the quote, 'There is such a thing as society, it's just not the state', it was actually Oliver Letwin who first delivered the remark that encapsulates Cameronism. He delivered the line on 2nd July 2002 to the Adam Smith Institute. Yesterday's manifesto was a tribute to one man's faithfulness to a massive idea.
Party Chairman Eric Pickles gives his daily take on the election campaign.
The left just doesn’t get it; they see everything through the eyes of state provision. They think unless it is provided centrally through a quango or through local government that somehow it is not legitimate. Today we demonstrated clearer than any other single promise how different we are from the Labour Party, we trust people.
David showed there was another way where we liberate workers from the monotony and the uniformity of state provision. Over the years I can think of numerous occasions where people in Local Government departments or the Health Service have said to me the Government makes us do it this way, but we could deliver it better, cheaper and more efficiently if they only let us. Under our reforms they can. We are going to oversee the greatest flowering of the cooperative movement. We can take pride that our school reforms will produce better state education and more power to parents and teachers.
Ours is a serious manifesto for serious times, we offer a change of direction and a chance for the British people to join in with Government in solving the many problems that face our county.
The manifesto was greeted with equal enthusiasm in Nottingham where I went to launch the manifesto in the East Midlands (as you can see in Jonathan Marsh's photo - click it to enlarge and see how many candidates you recognise). From the centre of Nottingham overlooking Nottingham countryside I met with candidates and workers in our key target seats. They reported to me a growing weakness in the Labour vote and a recognition that their area could deliver David a majority.
There was a launch in every region of England and there will be a separate launch in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
If you want a copy of the manifesto it is available to download for free online from the party website or can be purchased at all good bookstores.
Free copies are also available in Braille, Easy Read, audio and large print. To obtain a copy of these alternative formats please email Warren.
We are just a couple of days away from the Leaders’ debate. Following the success of the watch parties held earlier this year we are organising a series for fellow Conservatives to come together to watch the Leaders’ debates in each other company. If you want to organise a party, click here.
Daniel Hannan MEP applauds a revolutionary document: "This is a revolutionary manifesto. I use the word advisedly: this programme would amount to a turning of the wheel, a setting upright of that which has been placed on its head, so that the state becomes once again the servant of the citizen rather than the other way around."
Harry Phibbs also likes the Power to the People message: "The 1970s sitcom character Wolfie Smith bellowing ‘Power to the People!’ from the streets of Tooting was not an obvious Conservative pin-up. Yet ‘Power to the People’ is not only David Cameron's mantra in this election campaign. It is also a traditional Conservative theme and none the worse for that."
Michael Crick accuses Cameron of not delivering decentralisation within the Conservative Party: "The sacking of MPs over expenses, giving no say to their local parties of constituents; the centralised A-list of candidates; imposing shortlists on local constituencies in selections since 1 January this year; controlling the order of the party lists for the 2008 European elections, and stopping activists from sacking Conservative MEPs; by-passing the Shadow Cabinet, and avoiding significant discussion or decision-making at Shadow Cabinet; centralised leaflet formats and wording; centralised and very detailed requirements of candidates for money granted under the Ashcroft strategy; making candidates get approval for articles, literature and even tweets; threatening councillors in East Surrey they would lose the party whip if they complained about the selection of Sam Gyimah; telling activists in Westminster North they had no option but to keep Joanne Cash as their candidate, or the local party would be disbanded; the huge influence of a small group of unelected individuals around David Cameron; the taking of the whip away from the Croydon MP Andrew Pelling before he had ever been charged with any offence (which he never was)."
Fraser Nelson on Gove's passion for education: "Gove impressed, as usual, speaking with fluency, authenticity and passion about the education reforms – and he even took an education question at the end, which is far better than watch Cameron wing it. You get the feeling from Gove that he does not regard education as a stepping stone to a greater career path, but that his mission in politics is to bed these reforms down. Blair had that in Adonis (which is why Brown moved him) and Cameron has that in Gove."
As the Third Marquess of Salisbury used to say.
Or rather, as he didn't.
I mention Robert Cecil for a reason. This must be the most un-Tory manifesto ever published by the Party. It would have astounded that bleak, frowning, gloomy-bearded Victorian statesman. It's altogether lacking in the sense of evolutionary caution, of politics as the art of the possible, of the fragility of public affairs, and of the frailty of human endeavour that, not so long ago, coloured the lifeblood of the Conservative Party.
Consider this: "Our ambition is for every adult in the country to be a member of an active neighbourhood group." Please note: every adult. How will voters find the time? After all, they'll be too busy taking over schools, forming co-operatives to run hospitals, organising their own single budgets if ill long-term, sacking MPs in recall ballots, electing police commissioners, voting in local referendums, undertaking national citizenship service, and monitoring government spending on-line to do very much else at all.
This is not so much a Tory manifesto as a Californian manifesto - so much so that it actually boasts a snap of Silicon Valley. It has Steve Hilton's fingerprints all over it. If enacted, it will make government under David Cameron an invigorating business. The state will be smaller. But it will also be louder. It won't walk away from civil society, but instead will, in the manifesto's words "agitate for, catalyse and galvanise" for change. If you doubt it, have a look at the action it pledges against firms that encourage the commercialisation of childhood. If elected, Cameron will use Number 10 as a bully pulpit.
No-one who actually reads the manifesto and absorbs the detail will be able airily to say afterwards that there's no difference in this election between the main parties. Sure, most people won't read it. If they haven't already made up their minds, they'll go to the polls asking if they can bear four more years of Brown, or whether they can really trust Cameron. Or they'll plump for whoever they think is likely to make a fist of running the economy. But manifestos are important in other ways. They reveal much about the approach, temper and tone of the parties that publish them.
This one marries the modernising spirit of Margaret Thatcher to society rather than the economy. It's partly Hannan and Carswell as well as Cameron and Hilton. It's transatlantic in its can-do spirit - and is another sign, were one needed, of the Americanisation of British politics. If its vision is deemed too radical, what does that say about the voters? Will they want to leap at the chance of transforming their country…or roll over and go back to sleep?
In the red corner, the Big State. In the blue corner, the Big Society. The battlelines are drawn today by David Cameron as he unveils the Conservative Party manifesto.
The media, ever anxious for a bit of colour to enliven the story, will contrast the garish Stalinist realism illustrating Labour's prospectus with the sober imagery of the Tory pitch for the nation's support.
A laughably phoney optimism from grumpy old Gordon Brown is pitted against an offering from baby-faced Mr Cameron positively dripping with gravitas. It is a neat clash of imagery with both leaders seeking to neutralise their negatives - gloom in Gordon's case, inexperience in Dave's.
But the real difference lies beneath the cover. Gordon may have so shattered the economy that he can no longer seek to bribe the voters with their own money - or more accurately bribe the voters with money borrowed from foreign investors. But for all the Blairite gloss, the great, lumbering Big State still lurks beneath the surface gobbling up £650 billion of our money every year and hungry for more as soon as there is any sign of an economic upturn.
Cameron is facing in the opposite direction with his notion that the Big Society can replace the Big State. It is both a genuinely radical idea and one in tune with the Tory tradition, from Burke's little platoons to the Trust the People message of the One Nation Conservatives to Maggie Thatcher's people power revolution of the 1980s, most clearly seen with her sales of council houses.
His vision is one of a Britain where the public is no longer the passive recipient of services doled out by the Big State, be they health, education, law enforcement or care of the disadvantaged.
12.15pm update: DOWNLOAD THE MANIFESTO HERE
I'll be blogging the highlights below (not verbatim).
10.54am David and Samantha Cameron arrive.
11.18am Samantha Cameron takes her seat
11.19am William Hague: comes on and says that Battersea Power station is ripe for regeneration - just like our country. He welcomes Cameron to the stage, saying this is the culmination of four and a half years work. He says that the Conservative party was too narrow in its thinking before but has changed under David Cameron. "The party of one nation is back where it belongs." Problems cannot be solved by politicians alone... come and join the government... we are in this together... let's work together to mend the broken society, to mend our broken politics and to restore Britain's reputation... Vote Blue Go Green was never just a slogan... Change comes from strong people, not strong government. And that change cannot come soon enough.
Yesterday evening Tim wrote this first preview of the Conservative Party's manifesto for the general election, which is being published at 11am this morning.
He cited David Cameron's foreword which sought to fire up millions of people into playing a part in the nation's future and highlighted eight of the party's direct invitations to people, which would empower them in a variety of ways.
And it is the notion of giving power to people which leads the previews of the document in most of the papers this morning:The Times: "David Cameron will invite voters today to take greater control over their own lives as he challenges Labour’s vision for Britain’s future. The Conservative leader says that he wants to put the public in the driving seat, wresting control of their lives from the State, a sharp contrast with Labour’s pledge to form an “active reforming government, not an absent government”.
The Guardian: "In a direct invitation to voters to join him in governing Britain, the Tory leader will promise in his election manifesto to offer California-style referendums on any local issue if residents can win the support of 5% of the population. Adopting historic language from the Labour movement about the "collective strength" of society, Cameron will also pledge to let people "be your own boss" as public sector workers are allowed to assume ownership of the services they provide."
The Independent: "The 130-page policy blueprint, billed last night as a "people's manifesto", invites the nation to join Mr Cameron "to form a new kind of government for Britain". It will contrast his aim to devolve power to individuals and communities with what it calls Labour's top-down management style. The manifesto will promise parents that education will be revolutionised by the creation of a "new generation" of free schools run by other schools, charities or private companies."
Daily Telegraph: "He [David Cameron] will allow people to be “your own boss, sack your MP, run your own school, own your own home, veto council tax rises, vote for your police, save your local pub or post office, and see how the government spends your money”... The Tory document will include key tax policies, including a pledge to reverse most of the Government’s planned National Insurance rise — an issue that has dominated the election campaign. It will outline plans for a £150-a-year tax break for four million married couples and include eight benchmarks for economic growth by which the electorate will be able to hold a new Tory administration to account."
Daily Mail: "Immigration is 'too high' and will be reduced to levels last seen in the mid-1990s under a Tory election blueprint to restore Britain's 'sense of national purpose'... A key section of the document, seen by the Daily Mail, seeks to address claims that the Conservatives have shied away from the issue of immigration, which polls suggest is second only to the economy among voters' concerns. The manifesto pledges barriers on immigration from countries joining the EU, an annual cap on non-EU migration and a tougher points system to limit access to those with most to offer the British economy."
The Sun: "David Cameron's Tories will lock up anyone convicted of a knife offence - even those caught carrying a blade, he will reveal today. The party would also fast-track the introduction of mobile weapons scanners on streets, trains and buses."
The Financial Times, meanwhile, takes the opportunity to suggest that the party's programme being announced today is rather different from that which it would have put forward had Gordon Brown called an election in 2007:
"A combination of the economic crisis and a squeeze on the Tories' opinion poll lead has tempered the opposition party's modernising aspirations with more pragmatic policies designed to appeal to its traditional base and woo floating voters."
From what we've seen, it looks to me like an optimistic, coherent programme and the emphasis on power to people is one which anyone sceptical about the burgeoning power of the state should welcome.
There will obviously be further coverage of the manifesto launch on ConHome after 11am.
130 pages long it will be published as a hardback book.
There's no image on the cover and so, unlike Labour's heavily-spoofed manifesto, the internet's inventive Photoshoppers won't have much fun with it!
It's called An invitation to join the government of Britain and begins with these words from David Cameron:
"A country is at its best when the bonds between people are strong and when the sense of national purpose is clear. Today the challenges facing Britain are immense. Our economy is overwhelmed by debt, our social fabric is frayed and our political system has betrayed the people. But these problems can be overcome if we pull together and work together. If we remember that we are all in this together.
"Some politicians say: 'give us your vote and we will sort out all your problems'. We say: real change comes not from government alone. Real change comes when the people are inspired and mobilised, when millions of us are fired up to play a part in the nation's future.
"Yes this is ambitious. Yes it is optimistic. But in the end all the Acts of Parliament, all the new measures, all the new policy initiatives, are just politicians' words without you and your involvement.
"How will we deal with the debt crisis unless we understand that we are all in this together? How will we raise responsible children unless every adult plays their part? How will we revitalise communities unless people stop asking 'who will fix this?' and start asking 'what can I do?' Britain will change for the better when we all elect to take part, to take responsibility - if we all come together. Collective strength will overpower our problems.
"Only together can we can get rid of this government and, eventually, its debt. Only together can we get the economy moving. Only together can we protect the NH S. Improve our schools. Mend our broken society. Together we can even make politics and politicians work better. And if we can do that, we can do anything. Yes, together we can do anything.
"So my invitation today is this: join us, to form a new kind of government for Britain."
It contains eight direct invitations:
There are no new policies in the manifesto; just a reaffirmation and representation of existing pledges. The pre-launch briefing emphasises school reform, welfare-to-work, the ambition to make Britain the most family-friendly country in Europe; stopping Labour’s jobs tax; support for the NHS; and "bold" environmentalism. Immigration, action against knife crime and protection of pensioner benefits are also bigged up in a document that has Steve Hilton's fingerprints all over it.
As I expected, it is detailed - because of the composition of the House of Lords, where the Tories will be in a minority even with a Commons majority, only measures spelt out in the manifesto can be sure to pass the Upper House.