British Prime Minister David Cameron launched the general election campaign in the United Kingdom on Tuesday with warnings that the country faces a stark choice between a safe and secure future under the Tories or economic chaos under Labour.
In a sign that the Tories will run a highly personalised campaign against Labour leader Ed Miliband, the prime minister – standing outside his 10 Downing Street residence – took the rare step amid the formalities of the day to namecheck the Labour leader three times.
Cameron repeated his message as he made his first campaign visit – to the Liberal Democrats-held seat of Chippenham in Wiltshire – after formally notifying the queen of the dissolution of Parliament.
In a speech to Tory activists at a school in the constituency, Cameron said: “Never forget this election is a choice. You can stick with the Conservatives, who’ve shown competence, who’ve shown decency, who’ve shown a long-term economic plan that has turned the country round, or you can put that at risk.”
He travelled to Chippenham after breaking with the pattern set by his predecessors, to launch a highly partisan attack on his main opponent on the steps of Downing Street on his return from Buckingham Palace.
Speaking after he had formally notified the queen that Parliament had been dissolved at midnight, the prime minister said in a message to voters: “In 38 days’ time you face a stark choice. The next prime minister walking through that door will be me or Ed Miliband.
“You can choose an economy that grows, that creates jobs, that generates the money to ensure a properly funded and improving National Health Service, a government that will cut taxes for 30-million hardworking people and a country that is safe and secure. Or you can choose the economic chaos of Ed Miliband’s Britain – over £3 000 in higher taxes for every working family to pay for more welfare and out-of-control spending. Debt will rise and jobs will be lost.”
Cameron’s remarks, which contrast with speeches by his predecessors, who usually tried to place themselves above the political fray in such circumstances, show that the Tories believe they have their work cut out to deliver one of their key messages of the campaign: that voters face a binary choice between Cameron and Miliband.
The Conservatives enter the election campaign in a nervous mood after a YouGov/Sunday Times poll placed Labour four points ahead of the Tories – 36% to 32%. Lynton Crosby, the party’s election campaign director, had told the Conservatives they would have achieved “crossover” – the point at which they take a decisive lead over Labour – by now. But that is not reflected in the latest poll.
The prime minister reinforced his warnings that the electorate faced a choice between Tory “competence” and “chaos” under the other parties by saying that a vote for Labour could give the Scottish National Party (SNP) a say in the UK government.
To cheers from Tory activists, a shirt-sleeved Cameron said: “There is only one thing worse than a Labour government with Ed Miliband in Downing Street. That is Ed Miliband in Downing Street backed up by Alex Salmond and the SNP. This is the risk – an alliance between the people who want to bankrupt Britain, that is Labour, and the people who want to break up Britain, that is the SNP. There is only one group of people in this country that can stop that happening – that is the Conservatives.”
A Tory source defended the decision to namecheck Miliband on the steps of Downing Street: “We needed to frame the choice … If you vote for any other party than the Conservatives you end up with chaos.”
The prime minister’s visit to the queen was symbolic, providing the Tories with invaluable TV pictures, after the coalition Liberal Democrats-Tory government changed the law on the calling of an election. Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act of 2011, the power to dissolve Parliament is no longer a royal prerogative. It is a statutory power. This meant the prime minister informed the queen that Parliament had been dissolved rather than asking her, as his predecessors have, to dissolve Parliament to allow an election.
In his speech in Downing Street, Cameron said he would travel to all four constituent parts of the UK during the campaign to explain how he had turned the country round after inheriting a nation “on the brink”.
He said: “Five years ago, when I walked through that black door, millions of people were unemployed, there was no economic security for our families and there were worries about whether our country could pay its debts. Britain was on the brink.
“Five years later, because of our long-term economic plan and the difficult decisions we’ve taken we have more people in work in our country than at any time in our history, living standards are on the rise. Britain is back on its feet again.”
Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg also met the queen in his role as lord president of the privy council for its last scheduled meeting before the election. The deputy prime minister said the Liberal Democrats offered voters an alternative to the “dismal choice” of a lurch to the left or right” under Labour or the Tories. Clegg said: “About the very last thing the country needs is a lurch to the left or the right. And yet that is exactly what the Conservative and Labour parties are now threatening … That is a dismal choice.” – © Guardian News and Media 2015