In Depth

Cameron targets Thatcher's blue-collar army

Conservatives are the party of working people, Cameron declares as ‘role reversal week’ continues

The Mole

David Cameron is making a shameless bid for Britain’s blue-collar working-class vote with two carefully targeted policies in the Tory manifesto launched today.

The Tory leader will promise an extension of the Right to Buy scheme to 1.3 million families in housing association homes, and offer a tax break for workers on the minimum wage. 

After a slew of policies proposed in recent weeks that cynics said were aimed squarely at the comfortable middle-classes, Cameron will now call the Conservatives the "party of working people”.

The Daily Mail enthusiastically hailed it as “a bold pitch to blue-collar voters who delivered Lady Thatcher’s three election victories”.

Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband were accused yesterday of "role reversal" after Miliband made a bid for the Tory claim to "fiscal competence" while the Tory leader targeted Labour voters with a pledge to spend an extra £8bn a year on the NHS.

But Cameron's new offer goes further. It is already being seen as the most blatant attempt by the Tories to capture Labour voters since the 1980s when Thatcher mounted her revolution to create the "property-owning democracy" on council estates across Britain.

Norman Smith, the BBC’s assistant political editor, said it raised suspicions that the Tory and Labour election teams are working from the same battle plan to try to win over "hard working families" who could decide the outcome of the election on 7 May.

The Tory manifesto will extend the Right to Buy from council homes to an estimated 1.3 housing association tenants with discounts of up to 35 per cent worth more than £100,000 in London and £70,000 in other parts of England.

The taxpayer will have to foot the bill for the discounts, but Cameron will say £4 billion will be raised by forcing councils to sell off their most valuable properties, such as four-bed family homes, if they are lying empty. He claims that would raise enough to compensate the housing associations and invest £1 billion in a development fund to build 400,000 more homes on brownfield sites.

The Lib Dems said it would only benefit "the lucky few". Ruth Davison, director of policy at the National Housing Federation, attacked the policy as a "costly distraction" and said it could cost £20bn.

“Housing associations are independent organisations and charities,” she told Radio 4’s Today programme. “You can no more force housing associations to sell their assets than Tesco’s or cancer charities. Housing associations will have to be fully recompensed for any sales.”

The Tories are also promising those on low wages to link the income tax allowance to the level of the minimum wage, currently £6.50 an hour, so they would not have to pay income tax in future.

The manifesto is published the morning after Team Cameron received a confidence-building boost in an ICM opinion poll for The Guardian giving the Conservatives a six-point lead over Labour (39 to 33 per cent) while Ed Miliband's own bid to grab the mantle of "fiscal responsibility" from the Conservatives was panned in the Tory-supporting press.

Paul Johnson, director of the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, said Miliband's plans for reducing the deficit still left voters in the dark. “Literally, we would not know what we were voting for if we were going to vote for Labour,” said Johnson.

The Guardian/ICM survey could be a rogue poll, but the Cameron camp is hoping it is the first sign of a decisive break in the deadlock between the two main parties as voters begin to make up their minds. 

The Tories are hoping to receive a further boost from new figures released by the International Monetary Fund later day. They are expected to show that Britain is one of the fast growing economies in the world - and Chancellor George Osborne's "long term economic plan" is working.

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