UK opposition leader sets out key election pledges

British opposition leader Ed Miliband on Saturday set out five key election pledges and cast himself as the champion of a fairer Britain, two months ahead of May 7 national polls.

London: British opposition leader Ed Miliband on Saturday set out five key election pledges and cast himself as the champion of a fairer Britain, two months ahead of May 7 national polls.

Miliband -- who has been dogged by an awkward public image since beating his more telegenic brother to win his party`s leadership in 2010 -- accused Prime Minister David Cameron`s Conservative-led coalition of favouring the wealthy and said a Labour government would be a country "for the many".

Speaking at a Labour party rally in the central city of Birmingham, Miliband told an audience of party faithful: "Today we set out how we can replace a failing, tired, government for the few with a government that is truly for all the working people of Britain."

"Today I urge the British people to choose optimism. To choose a country for the many," he said.

In his five election pledges, Miliband pledged to achieve a strong economic foundation; ensure higher living standards for working families; manage the National Health Service (NHS) so that it had "the time to care"; implement controls on immigration, and create a country "where the next generation can do better than the last".

And he vowed to abolish so-called "zero hours" contracts under which workers do shifts only on demand -- a growing issue in a country with a growing economy but where living standards have been squeezed due to years of little wage growth.

Labour and the Conservatives currently have 32 percent and 33 percent support respectively according to a rolling average of opinion polls compiled by the UK Polling Report website.

But Cameron has consistently enjoyed higher personal approval ratings than Miliband, a former energy minister.

Much media coverage has focused on Miliband`s slightly gawky manner and nasal voice and this week some seized on the revelation that he has two kitchens in his home to portray him as a left-wing politician trying to play down his own personal wealth.

"Clearly the electorate hasn`t fallen in love with Miliband but probably that is now priced into Labour`s poll rating," Tim Bale, chair in politics at Queen Mary, University of London, said.

"We know that elections aren`t just about leaders, they`re about what the party offers."Labour, which governed Britain from 1997 to 2010 under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, says it wants to share the profits of economic recovery more evenly across society and protect the state-run National Health Service (NHS).

But their ruling Conservative rivals argue that Britain must continue with austerity in order to reduce its deficit, and say that Labour`s pledges will mean higher taxes and more debt.

"He`s got no policies, he`s got no plan, he`s got no team, he`s got no clue of running the country," Cameron has said.

In its fight to get Miliband elected, Labour has recruited David Axelrod the man who helped orchestrate Barack Obama`s rise to the US presidency, and Miliband`s language on Saturday often echoed Obama`s 2008 campaign."

Opportunities to speak directly to voters are seen as vital for Miliband to overturn "an impression largely forged so far by the character attacks of right-wing newspapers", Jonathan Hopkin, of the London School of Economics, said.

Hopkin said this was why Cameron had refused to take part in a head-to-head debate with Miliband on live television, instead agreeing only to appear in one live broadcast involving at least seven party leaders.

Miliband`s wife Justine, a barrister, has recently increased her public profile and defended her husband in public, telling a BBC interview she was braced for increased attacks on her spouse.

"I think it`s going to get worse, I think over the next couple of months it`s going to get really vicious, really personal, but I`m totally up for this fight," she said.

"If you ask me why I`m up for a fight, I`m fighting not only for Ed but I`m fighting for the principle of decency in public life."

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