Ed Miliband pledged to lead a Britain that “works for working people” as he unveiled a manifesto including a pledge to accelerate increases to the minimum wage to take it beyond £8 an hour by 2019.
The manifesto represents a bold bid to reclaim public trust in Labour’s ability to handle the economy five years after losing office in the aftermath of the financial crash.
The first page commits a new Labour government to a “budget responsibility lock”, guaranteeing that every policy is fully costed and will not require any additional borrowing.
It also promises to freeze rail fares for a year, paid for by abandoning some road schemes – after the Tories said they would cap increases to inflation over the next five years.
Mr Miliband accused the Tories of being “the party of sums that do not add up and commitments that cannot be kept”.
Urging voters to back a change after five years of “failed” coalition austerity, he said the manifesto “does not do what most manifestos do. It doesn’t offer a list of promises … a shopping list of proposals.
“Instead it seeks to answer the questions people are asking.
“This plan shows there is no trade-off between being disciplined and making a difference.
“The plan we lay before you is no less ambitious because we live in a time of scarcity.
“It is more ambitious because it starts from a clear commitment to balance the books and because it does not stop there.
“This is a plan to change our country. And it is a plan which shows Labour is not only the party of change but the party of responsibility too.”
While the party has nudged ahead in recent voting intention opinion polls, it remains well adrift of the Conservatives on economic competence.
Despite the pledge of a “budget responsibility lock”, unlike the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, who launch their manifestos later this week, Labour offers no timetable for clearing the deficit, saying only that it will get national debt falling and a surplus on the current budget “as soon as possible in the next parliament”.
Mr Miliband said: “A clear vow to protect our nation’s finances. A triple lockof responsibility.
“First, we are the only party at this election who can show how every policy in our manifesto will be paid for – no commitments requiring additional borrowing, not a single one.
“Second, our manifesto writes the first line of Labour’s first budget: ‘This Budget cuts the deficit every year’. That Budget will only be presented when it has been verified by the Office for Budget Responsibility.
“Third, the next Labour government will meet our fiscal rules, with the national debt falling and a surplus on the current budget.”
The Labour leader said there was a “contrast” with the Tories, accusing them of throwing spending promises around “with absolutely no idea where the money is coming from”.
He said: “That approach is bad for the nation’s books, and you know nothing is more dangerous to our NHS than pretending you will be able to protect it without being able to say where the money is coming from.
“You can’t fund the NHS with an IOU and the Conservative Party need to learn that lesson.
“The Tories are the party of sums that do not add up and commitments that will not be kept.
“We are a party that will keep our commitments and every promise we make is paid for. That is the difference between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party.”
Mr Miliband said coalition policy had meant insecurity for millions as a “prescription for economic success” adding: “We have had five years of these ideas, we have had five years of this experiment.
“It has failed.”
Mr Miliband said Labour would create a country in which everyone’s voice is heard, rather than one where those with access and wealth have all the power.
The Labour leader said: “Today we tear up the old assumptions.
“Britain succeeds not when we only reward those with the six-figure bonuses but when we reward the hard work of every working person in our country.
“Britain succeeds not when our schools and hospitals are cut back to the bone but where we invest so they can strive to be the best in the world
“Britain succeeds not with communities that are fraying at the edges, but when we have communities where people share a common life.
“Britain succeeds not when those who have the access and the wealth have all the power, but when everyone’s voice is heard.
“And Britain succeeds not when we turn in on ourselves but when we are strong and confident and look outward to the world.
“That is the kind of country we are, that’s how Britain can do better than this.”
Mr Miliband also outlined new plans to create a National Childcare Service to help guarantee wraparound childcare “for every working parent that wants it”.