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Cameron: Public must help revitalise economy

Published:Friday | April 16, 2010 | 12:00 AM

LONDON (AP):

Britain's opposition leader David Cameron this week invoked John F. Kennedy's famous call for civic action, unveiling his election platform with an appeal to Britons to take an unprecedented role in running their country.

Echoing Kennedy's call to ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country, the Conser-vative Party leader vowed to give the public new powers to take over underperforming public services or recall rule-breaking lawmakers.

Outlining his policy ideas ahead of the May 6 national election, Cameron said that with sharp spending cuts looming to tackle Britain's record deficit, citizens, charities and community groups must take on new responsibilities.

"We don't just want your votes. We don't just seek your support. We seek your active participation - every day, in every way - in the running of our country," Cameron said.

Radical reconstruction

His plans - which borrow heavily from the United States - would allow voters to veto unwarranted increases in local taxes, scrutinise public spending via government websites or win support to rescue cherished neighbourhood venues at risk of closure, like pubs, or post offices.

Britons must "stop asking who will fix this and start asking what can I do?" Cameron wrote in an introduction to his election platform document.

His Conservative Party leads Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour Party in opinion polls. Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, responding for Labour, said Cameron's plan would leave many Britons abandoned. "It's the same old Tory message: Sink or swim, you're on your own," he said.

Cameron launched the platform in a disused and crumbling London power station. "Britain, like the building, needs radical reconstruction," Cameron said.

"Our economy is overwhelmed by debt, our social fabric is frayed and our political system has betrayed the people," he told supporters. "But these problems can be overcome if we pull together and work together."

Recession

Britain has been struggling through a deep 18-month recession in which around 1.3 million people have been laid off and 50,000 families had their homes repossessed. A deficit expected to reach £167 billion ($249 billion) this year, exceeding 11 per cent of gross domestic product, means all political parties acknowledge steep public spending cuts are inevitable.

The country's debt burden rose dramatically as the government bailed out Britain's troubled banks, paid for higher welfare payments and attempted to stimulate the economy.

Cameron's Conservatives favour immediate action, while Labour plans to hold off on severe austerity measures until next year - hoping to protect fragile signs of growth.

Cameron told voters the debt meant an end to an era of rising spending on services. "We can make things better without spending more money," he said at the manifesto launch, surrounded by young activists and election candidates.

His plans propose a charter school movement, elected police chiefs and ballot initiatives - a system which permits individuals with sufficient support to force local referendums on particular issues.