'Ask what you can do for your country': Cameron invokes JFK as he puts Broken Britain at heart of manifesto

  • Tory leader launches 'biggest call to arms in a generation'
  • 'People power' at centre of drive for 'Big Society'
  • Residents get power to veto council tax rises
  • Voters can kick out MPs found guilty of wrongdoing
  • Parents, charities and businesses allowed to run own schools
  • Directly-elected police chiefs will set budgets and strategy
  • First-time buyer stamp duty threshold permanently raised to £250k
  • Immigration capped at around 50,000 a year
  • Viral campaign through Facebook and Twitter

David Cameron invoked President John F Kennedy today and urged voters: ‘Ask what you can do for your country.’

Launching the Tory manifesto at the atmospheric Battersea power station in London, Mr Cameron said his party would roll back Labour’s big government and encourage the creation of a ‘Big Society’ in which individuals, families and communities play a hands on role in solving Britain's problems.

He invited voters to help rebuild Britain’s ‘broken society’ by seizing back more responsibility for their own lives and communities from the state.

And he invoked President Kennedy’s famous 1961 inauguration speech, declaring: ‘As a great American President once said: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

‘So, ask what you can do for your country – and yes, for your family and for your community too.’

David Cameron

Future prime minister? David Cameron launched the Tory manifesto at Battersea Power Station, in London, today with a call to arms to change the country

David Cameron

We're in this together: Mr Cameron returned repeatedly to the need for individuals to take responsibility and transform society


THEMES:  People power, Big Society, you the government, we're all in this together

KEYWORDS: Change, responsibility

OUTLOOK: Relentlessly optimistic

NEW POLICY: No. It had all been heavily trailed

STYLE: Heir to Blair. Presidential. Cameron invoked JFK and stole some of Obama's catchphrases

BEST BIT? Cameron's quip about Gene Hunt lightened the mood. SamCam - showing off her bump for the first time - looked appropriately radiant

WORST? An interminable warm-up act - it was nearly an hour before Cameron got on stage

GIMMICK: Online viral campaign to 500,000 people via email, Facebook and Twitter. Another Obama tactic

But a new poll tonight, showing a narrowing in the Tory lead to just three points, threatened to cast a pall over the launch.

The Populus survey, conducted while Labour's manifesto was dominating the news, put the Conservatives on 36 per cent, Labour on 33 per cent and the LibDems on 21 per cent.

This is a three-point drop for the Tories since last week and, if repeated in a general election, would make Labour the largest party in a hung Parliament.

Mr Cameron will have to hope his manifesto gives him a new boost as he battles to reach the all-important 40 per cent threshold that would give him an outright majority.

Under Tory plans, people will be helped to set up their own schools and given the chance to elect local police commissioners and veto excessive council tax rises. Public sector workers will be encouraged to set up co-operatives.

The Tories would also scrap ID cards, cut immigration and give MPs the chance to reverse Labour’s ban on foxhunting.

Mr Cameron said the country faced grave challenges and that this was the 'biggest call to arms in a generation.' But he said everything could be solved if the country 'pulled together.'

Urging people to get ‘fired up for change’ he said: ‘We can deal with our debts. We can mend our broken society. We can restore faith in our shattered political system. But only if millions of people are fired up and inspired to play a part in the nation’s future.’

He went on: ‘We do not stand here and make the usual politicians' promises.  We do not say: “give us your vote and we will solve all your problems.'”

‘We say something different. We say: no government can solve all the problems on its own. No individual can solve all the problems on their own.

‘We say: “We are all in this together, so come with us and we will build a better country. Together."

The Tory leader also revealed the party had contacted around 500,000 people by email, on Twitter and on Facebook in an internet viral campaign similar to that used by Barack Obama.

David Cameron

Warm reception: Mr Cameron got a standing ovation from the 500-strong crowd at the end of his 21-minute speech


Supporter: David Cameron's wife Samantha smiled (left) and also looked pensive as she sat in the audience during his speech



The cover of Pink Floyd's 1977 album Animals shows a pig floating over Battersea Power Station.

Today it was David Cameron's turn to inhabit the industrial wasteland.

The jokes started almost immediately, with one Twitterer posting: 'Tories launching their manifesto at Battersea Power Station is symbolic; Impressive from the outside but hollow and empty within.'

The sketch writers and cartoonists were also sharpening their pencils.

But Mr Cameron beat them to it, joking that he had saved them the trouble by looking up the venue on Wikipedia.

He  must have been delighted when he saw BBC drama Ashes to Ashes on Friday night.

It gave him the chance to ridicule the recent Labour campaign poster depicting the Tory leader as 1980s cop Gene Hunt.

'This is where Gene Hunt found Shazza and rescued her,' he quipped. 'Fire up the power station, it's time for change.'

But Battersea Power Station has not been fired up since 1983, the victim of a series of failed regeneration projects..

Alton Towers creator John Broome planned to create a massive theme park at the site. He demolished the roof and west wall but the park, scheduled to open in 1990, never materialised.

When Parkview International took possession of the station, plans for a retail super-site also failed.

But earlier this year new proposals to redevelop the site won the backing of the Government's architecture and urban design agency. The new London district would see thousands of new homes, as well as offices, shops, restaurants and a riverside park.

Mr Cameron said it was a 'building in need of regeneration in a country in need of regeneration'.

The developers will be hoping their regeneration project will not go up in smoke.

And Mr Cameron will be hoping his bid to become Prime Minister is not just a case of pigs might fly.

Mr Cameron's 21 minute speech was the final segment in a lengthy - and sometimes sluggish - event at Battersea Power Station.

It started just after 11am when shadow foreign secretary William Hague got up on stage to welcome the 500-strong audience and speak briefly on the need for change.

He was followed by shadow chancellor George Osborne, shadow work and pensions secretary Theresa May, shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley, shadow communities and local government secretary Caroline Spelman and shadow cohesion minister Baroness Warsi.

It was 11.51am before Mr Cameron finally got to his feet to deliver the speech, an upbeat appeal to Britain which borrowed heavily from Barack Obama as well as JFK.

Slogans such as 'Fired up' and 'Yes we can' peppered the address. But there were still no detailed policies of how his government would slash the mountain of debt and reduce public spending.

Mr Cameron began with a series of jokes designed to lighten the turgid atmosphere in the hall, telling his audience he had looked up Battersea Power Station on Wikipedia on the way to the event.

He described how it had started badly with references to The Beatles' film Help!, appearances in Hitchcock's Sabotage - and in episodes of Doctor Who where it had been over-run by Cybermen.

But he said he was relieved to discover it had also been used as recently as last week in hit BBC series Ashes to Ashes, adding it was where DCI 'Gene Hunt found Shazza and rescued her.'

'Fire up the power station, it's time for change,' Mr Cameron quipped, capitalising on a botched Labour campaign poster which had portrayed him as the straight-talking, misogynistic Hunt.

He then plunged into his speech, the theme of which was reflected in the title of the Tories 130-page manifesto: ‘An invitation to join the Government of Britain’.

Tory pledges including reversing Labour’s plans to increase National Insurance by one per cent next year for anyone earning less than £35,000.

Like Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the Tories have refused to rule out raising VAT after the election to help plug the budget deficit.

But pressed on the issue this morning the Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague said: ‘The plans we have don't involve raising VAT. We are not looking for tax rises. People feel over-taxed.’

Other Tory tax pledges include freezing council tax for two years and a £3 a week tax break for some married couples.

In the wake of the expenses crisis the Tories have also unveiled a series of pledges to clean up Westminster.

These include reducing the number of MPs by 10 per cent and cutting minister’s pay by five per cent.

Voters will also get the chance to boot out MPs who cheat on their expenses if they are not dealt with properly by Parliament.

The Tories are also pledging a crackdown on immigration designed to cap the number of migrants entering the country.

The figure is not spelled out but it is thought the Tories want to cut immigration by up to 75 per cent.

The manifesto states: ‘Immigration is too high and needs to be reduced. We do not need to attract people to do jobs that could be carried out by British citizens, given the right training and support.’


Under manifesto proposals, migrant levels would be reduced to around 50,000 a year, a rate last seen in the mid-1990s. Numbers peaked at around 200,000 a year under Labour.

The manifesto concedes that immigration has 'enriched our nation' and insists the Tories still 'want to attract the brightest and the best people who can make a real difference to our economic growth'.

But it adds: 'Immigration today is too high and needs to be reduced. We do not need to attract people to do jobs that could be carried out by British citizens, given the right training and support.'

The document commits a Conservative government to measures including 'setting an annual limit on the number of non-EU economic migrants admitted into the UK to live and work; limiting access to those who will bring the most value to the British economy; and applying transitional controls as a matter of course in the future for all new EU Member States'.

The Government was widely criticised for failing to impose any controls when ten countries joined the EU, underestimating the number of migrant workers coming to the UK as a result by a factor of ten.

William Hague
George Osborne
Theresa May

The warm up acts: (l to r) William Hague, George Osborne and Theresa May were the first three Tories on stage

Andrew Lansley
Caroline Spelman
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi

Follow up: Andrew Lansley, Caroline Spelman and Baroness Warsi also took the podium


The Conservatives today pledged to give more children access to 'the kind of education currently only available to the well-off.'

The party's General Election education manifesto promises to raise the prestige of the teaching profession, restore rigour to the curriculum and exams system, and close the attainment gap between rich and poor.

Proposals for state funded 'free schools' run by parents, teachers' charities, trusts and voluntary groups - based on the Swedish model - are confirmed as a centrepiece of the Tories' education policies.

Six-year-olds will be made to take reading tests to assess their abilities, according to the manifesto, although there is no mention of whether these results would be published nationally - which could lead to the creation of new league tables.

League tables - and Sats tests for 11-year-olds - will remain.


The Conservatives will decentralise power in the NHS with the aim of giving patients "real choice", according to today's General Election manifesto.

It confirms several plans already announced including scrapping top-down Government targets, such as waiting times for treatment.

The Tories will create an independent NHS board for day-to-day running of the NHS, which will have power over how money is spent. Closer links will also be forged between NHS staff and the patients they treat.


The Conservatives made a pitch for the business vote today with an aim to create the most competitive tax system in the G20 group of developed countries within five years.

The Tories said they will restore the tax system's reputation for simplicity, stability and predictability, including plans in their first Budget for a five-year 'road map' for reforming corporation tax.

An independent Office of Tax Simplification will be created to suggest reforms to the tax system, while a new Conservative Government would cut corporation tax and the small companies' rate, funded by reducing 'complex' reliefs and allowances.

samcam and dave
samcam and dave

Relief: The Camerons arrive at Battersea (left) and leave holding hands after the speech


Call to arms: The manifesto is published in hardback and takes the form of a series of invitations to the public


A new community 'right to buy' scheme would be launched by a Conservative government, giving local people the power to protect pubs and post offices threatened with closure.

The party said nothing underlined the 'powerlessness' that many communities felt more than the loss of essential services because of decisions made by 'distant bureaucrats'.

People will be given a 'right to bid' to run any community service instead of the State.

The moves comes in the wake of the closure of thousands of post offices and pubs in recent years.


The Conservatives targeted the green vote today with a raft of pledges to drive the creation of a low-carbon economy and protect the countryside.

From maintaining the Green Belt and launching a national tree planting campaign to rewarding people who recycle and helping them make their homes more energy efficient, the Tories' manifesto sets out how people can 'vote blue, go green'.

Seen as the party of the countryside, the Conservatives laid out support for farming, including a cull of badgers in cattle TB hotspots, creating a supermarket ombudsman to give farmers a fair price for food and reforming the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

And among measures the party says will 'restore our civil liberties', the manifesto pledges to allow a free vote on repealing the Hunting Act.


Funding for new speed cameras will be axed under Tory plans to ease the pressure on Britain’s motorists.

The move, which was welcomed by motoring organisations, means there will be no new Government cash for expanding the network of fixed speed cameras. But the Tories stopped short of ordering a review of existing speed cameras.

In a separate move the Tory manifesto pledged to consult on a ‘Fair Fuel Stabiliser’, which would cut fuel duty when oil prices rise and increase it when prices fall.

The Tories said the move would ‘ensure families, businesses and the whole British economy are less exposed to volatile oil markets and that there is a more stable environment for low-carbon investment’.
The manifesto also committed the Tories to backing new ‘drugalyser’ technology to crack down on drug driving.

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