British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Tuesday took the fateful journey from Downing Street to Buckingham Palace to trigger a May 6 general election to be fought on a Labour manifesto that promises a series of bold initiatives to reform public services in a programme of “national renewal”.

A draft of the manifesto seen by the Guardian pledges that an unprecedented fourth-term Labour government would be “bolder about the role of state intervention in markets” and deliver sweeping constitutional change. Failing police forces could be taken over by their neighbours under one radical proposal.

Mr. Brown's trip to the palace will trigger four weeks of frenetic campaigning and comes as a shock Guardian ICM poll suggests Labour is clawing back support from the Tories. Tuesday's poll gives the Conservatives a four-point lead — much smaller than in other recent surveys, reflecting the volatility of the electorate.

Mr. Brown met his Cabinet before driving to the palace to ask the Queen's permission to dissolve Parliament. Previewing the message that will be at the heart of his election campaign, Mr. Brown said on Monday night: “The people of this country have fought too hard to get Britain on the road to recovery to allow anybody to take us back on to the road to recession.” Before launching his “GB on the road campaign”, the Prime Minister will say the choice is between securing the recovery and a reckless Tory party that will derail it.

He will insist that the Tories are alone in believing this year is the right time to cut £6 billion in government spending.

David Cameron, Tory leader, will counter by promising to fight for “the great ignored”. For the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg will say: “The election marks the beginning of the end of Brown.” The draft manifesto, due to be put to a joint Cabinet and national executive meeting on Wednesday, offers two dominant themes, of renewing the economy and establishing clearer citizens' rights and responsibilities.

It is being stressed that the manifesto will offer progressive solutions for tough times, including reforms of public services that match Tony Blair at his boldest.

New proposals contained in the draft, obtained by the Guardian, include: — Provisions for the management of inefficient police forces to be taken over by efficient forces. “Where service is not good enough, it will be taken over by the best”, the draft says.

— Simultaneous referendums on a new voting system for the Commons and a 100% elected second chamber.

— A national youth service alongside votes at 16.

— Rights for football supporters to take over football clubs.

— A living wage of £7.60 in Whitehall, funded by a cap on the salaries of the most highly paid public sector employees.

Cabinet-level discussions are also under way on a range of proposals including a cap on interest charged by credit card companies and a new review of competition law by the Office of Fair Trading.

Mr. Brown's team promised his campaign will be distinguished by meetings in canteens, living rooms and town halls. The contrast at a personal level will be offered between the granite resilience of the PM and Mr. Cameron's “plastic” leadership.

But the Conservatives, confident they have dealt a significant political blow by promising to cut national insurance contributions next year, believe they can pull off the biggest electoral swing since the 1930s and secure an overall majority.

In a London marginal constituency, Mr. Cameron will say: “We're fighting this election for the great ignored. Young, old, rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight. They start businesses, operate factories, teach our children, clean the streets, grow our food and keep us healthy — keep us safe.

“They work hard, pay their taxes, obey the law. They're good, decent people — they're the people of Britain and they just want a reason to believe that anything is still possible in our country. This election is about giving them that reason, giving them that hope.”

Mr. Clegg will travel to the three-way marginal seat of Watford. He will say that after “13 years of dodging elections despite being a key player in some of the most disastrous decisions, such as taking the country into an illegal war and a deep recession, [Brown] can't avoid going to the polls any longer”.

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

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