British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has released an ambitious plan to rebuild the economy, protect social services and renew faith in a troubled political system, with hopes it will lead his party to victory in a federal election in early May.

Outlining the Labour Party's policy platform, Brown said his government would prioritize spending on schools, health and policing — but little else, following a recession that has stripped the country's finances bare.


Gordon Brown, the British prime minister and Labour Party leader, delivers a speech during the launch of his party's manifesto in the newly built Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham on Monday. ((Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press))

The former Treasury chief promised to push allies for an international levy on bank transactions and to more tightly regulate corporate takeovers.

"My priority is to secure the recovery," Brown told supporters at a rally in Birmingham, central England. "But as that is done, we know we need to move on to a different, fairer economy with broader foundations and with responsibility from all, including at the top."

Following a scandal over lawmakers' expense claims, Brown also vowed to introduce fixed-term Parliaments, crack down on lobbying and hold a national referendum on changing Britain's voting system.   

Brown's governing Labour Party trails the main opposition Conservative Party in opinion polls ahead of the May 6 election, and has made up little ground since he announced the election date last week.   

The Conservatives' manifesto, being announced Tuesday, will promise to offer tax breaks for married couples, and to scrap planned increases to national insurance, a payroll tax levied on employers and their workers.   

Both Labour and the Conservatives have made only modest spending pledges, aware that the next government's priority will be tackling Britain's $259 billion Cdn deficit.   

Brown's party vows to halve Britain's deficit within four years and make savings of at least $23 billion next year, but has ruled out "reckless cuts to public spending" that it says would jeopardize growth.   

Opposition favours fast spending cuts

Labour's manifesto indicates that value-added tax, a levy on goods and services, may rise with some exemptions.   

Conservative Leader David Cameron favours faster, and sharper, cuts to spending aimed at reducing Britain's debts more quickly, in part to boost confidence among investors and financial markets.

Uncertain over who has the better economic plan, voters appear hesitant ahead of the election. Opinion surveys show neither main party is set to win an outright majority — meaning Britain may have its first hung Parliament since 1974.   

'We simply can't see how the deficit is going to be tackled quickly enough.' —Miles Templeman of the pro-business Institute of Directors

A ComRes poll published Sunday indicated 39 per cent of voters back the Conservatives and 32 per cent support Labour — a seven per cent lead for Cameron, but too little to give him a majority. The survey questioned 1,001 people and had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.   

"Labour's manifesto sets out serious plans for supporting the economy and dealing with the deficit through steady economic growth and fair taxation," said Dave Prentis, general secretary of the labour union Unison, which supports Labour.   

Miles Templeman, director general of the Institute of Directors — a pro-business group — said Brown had not presented a credible economic plan.

"We simply can't see how the deficit is going to be tackled quickly enough," he said.   

EU leadership on climate talks urged

The manifesto includes a vow to more tightly scrutinize attempts by foreign companies to take over British infrastructure or utility companies.   

Brown also said he's confident of persuading other nations to join a global banking levy. President Barack Obama has proposed a 0.15 per cent tax to be paid by about 50 of the biggest banks.   

Labour's manifesto pledged continued backing for military campaigns, but noted "Afghanistan is not a war without end" — reflecting public concern at a rising death toll.   

It calls for stronger leadership from the European Union in talks on a new global climate treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and offers support for attempts by Croatia, other Western Balkan states and Turkey to join the EU.