24 days to go: Howard launches Conservative manifesto

Michael Howard has launched the Conservative pitch for power with a promise to "battle for Britain" and make the country a better place in which to live.

With 24 days to go to the election, the Party Leader unveiled a manifesto programme designed to replace Labour's wasted years of squandered opportunity, talk, and broken promises with a new era of action to improve public services, reduce the burden of taxes, and provide better value for money - with politicians held properly accountable to the public.

And presenting himself as a battle-hardened, experienced politician with a wide ranging record of achievement, he pledged to lead a new government which would reject Labour's PR style of running the country, and focus instead on the key issues that matter to most: the economy, schools, hospitals, crime, and immigration.

He presented the party's 28-page action programme: including measures to extend choice, devolve power to communities, balance the justice system in favour of victims of crime, end the immigration and asylum shambles, establish a low tax economy, reduce red tape, restore standards and discipline to education, boost investment in local hospitals, and stand fast against the euro and the EU constitution.

Addressing a media conference at Party headquarters - before flying off for the start of a three week nationwide campaign tour - Mr Howard left no doubt of his determination to deliver change to Britain.

He declared: "I'm 63 years old. I've fought many battles in my life. I battled the union bullies that once crippled our economy. I battled the judges and the legal establishment that said crime couldn't be confronted and beaten. I battled to get where I am from a state school in a small town in South Wales. So if you think I'm not determined to change our country for the better, think again."

Pointing out that he easily have decided to hang up his boots, enjoy retirement, and spend more time with his grandchildren, he said: "I'm not going to do that. Because there's another battle I have to fight. I love my country and I know it can be a much, much better place to live than it is today. So I'm going in to battle for Britain."

He contrasted Tony Blair's eight years of talk, with the Conservative action programme to satisfy the simple longings of the British people - clean hospitals, more police on the streets, disciplined schools, controlled immigration, and value for money and lower taxes.

And he stressed that instead of Labour spin and lies, Conservative ministers will be held accountable…. as "ministers who tell the truth, do what they say, and admit their mistakes. Who suffer the consequences if they do something wrong."

He insisted that the nation no longer had to settle for second best, and that by voting Conservative electors had the opportunity to change Britain into a better place in which to live. "On May 5 you can bring an end to the years of let-down, and start sorting out the things that matter. You can let the sunshine of hope break through the clouds of disappointment we all feel," Mr Howard said.

Dismissing a vote for Labour as a reward for eight years of broken promises and for five more years of talk, and warning that support for the Liberal Democrats was simply a message for higher taxes, increased immigration, and softer sentences for murderers and rapists, he told the electorate:

"You don't have to settle for that. Use your vote to tell Mr Blair that it's just not good enough. Use your vote to take a stand. It's time for change. It's time for action."