'Pumped up' PM ready for poll fight
David Cameron has declared he is "pumped up" about backing British business, as he sought to inject passion into the Conservative General Election campaign as the finish line comes into sight.
With 10 days left to what polls suggest will be a photo-finish on May 7, both of the major parties issued new appeals for backing from key sectors of the electorate.
Labour offered first-time house-buyers a three-year stamp duty holiday worth up to £5,000, as Ed Miliband added a sixth promise to Labour's election pledge card - to deliver "homes to buy and action on rents".
And Mr Cameron promised a Tory government would maintain a "pro-business environment" and back hundreds of thousands of start-ups as he warned British companies were "staring down the barrel" of tax hikes and red tape if Labour takes office.
The PM acknowledged that the result of "the most important election in a generation" would be tight, but told an audience of entrepreneurs in London: "You are the magic ingredient to the recovering economy, and we've got just 10 days to make sure that that magic ingredient and that recovering economy keeps delivering the jobs we want, keeps delivering the growth we need, keeps delivering for the public services we want to provide.
"If you think I'm going to roll over in the next 10 days and let Ed Miliband and Alex Salmond wreck that, you've got another think coming. We have got a fight on our hands and I am going to win that fight. It's a battle for the backbone of Britain, that's what this election is about."
Mr Cameron was buoyed by a public letter to the Daily Telegraph signed by leaders of 5,000 small companies who said they wanted the PM and Chancellor George Osborne to be "given the chance to finish what they have started". However, one of the companies - Aurum Solutions of Wokingham - demanded its name was removed, saying it had received an email from Conservatives seeking a signature, but had not signed up.
The latest ICM poll for The Guardian gave Tories a three point lead on 35% (up one point since a similar poll a week ago) to Labour's 33% (unchanged), with Ukip on 13% (up two) and Liberal Democrats on 9% (down one). But a YouGov survey for The Sun had Labour in the lead on 34%, to Tories' 33%, Ukip's 14% and the Lib Dems' 8% - the eighth time in nine days the pollster has found Mr Miliband's party heading the pack.
North of the border, a TNS poll found Scottish National Party support continuing to surge to 54%, almost two and a half times Labour's 22%.
Mr Miliband unveiled plans to exempt anyo ne paying up to £300,000 for their first home from stamp duty for three years - a £225 million-a-year pledge the party said would be paid for by squeezing tax-avoiding landlords and wealthy property investors.
In a foray into traditionally Conservative territory, the Labour leader said his party would "restore the dream of home ownership in our country" and would ensure that families rather than speculators get "first call" on new homes by giving first time buyers who have lived in an area for more than three years priority.
"There's nothing more British than the dream of home-ownership," said Mr Miliband in a speech to supporters in Stockton-on-Tees. "But for so many young people today that dream is fading with millions more renting when they want to buy, new properties being snapped up before local people get a look-in."
The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors said the move " could help some first-time buyers", but head of policy Jeremy Blackburn cautioned: "It's another measure that tinkers with demand-side stimulus. Prices are already predicted to rise in the next Parliament and this is only likely to make matters worse."
And Generation Rent - the pressure group for private tenants - warned: "Any cut to stamp duty just stimulates demand for housing. The extra cash a first time buyer would have just goes straight to the person selling the house at a higher price."
Nick Clegg travelled to Eastleigh, in Hampshire - scene of a poll-defying by-election victory for Lib Dems in 2013 - to urge supporters to battle hard to defend as many as possible of the 57 seats the party won in 2010.
"We are fighting a campaign like we have never fought a campaign before. Sixty by-elections up and down the country," said the Lib Dem leader.
A party source said if Lib Dems had a group of MPs numbering "in the 30s" it could potentially hold the balance of power after May 7 and be able to once again form part of a coalition government.
A further poll of 2,072 people, carried out by Populus from April 24-26, gave Labour a three-point lead on 36% (up one point since a similar survey three days earlier), with Conservatives on 33% (up one), Ukip on 14%, the Liberal Democrats on 8% and the Greens on 5% (all unchanged).
Mr Cameron told 5 News he felt "hungrier" for victory than during the 2010 campaign.
"I am hungrier than I was five years ago," he said.
"Five years ago we had the job of inheriting a mess and having to turn the economy around and I feel very excited now that having got people back to work, got the deficit down in half, got the country growing faster than most of the rest of the Western world, there is a real opportunity there to do what I came into politics to do which is help people change their lives."
He rejected claims he was failing to meet real voters: "I've done everything from walkabouts to office meetings to public meetings, to rallies.
"People get plenty of chance to ask me questions and make up their minds," he insisted.
And he defended the length of the campaign despite daughter Florence thinking "it has gone on a long time".
"It's such a big choice that I don't think it's wrong to have a long election campaign, It is right to give people to maximum amount of time even if my four-year-old, who is very wise, says every night 'is it over yet'."
The PM renewed a commitment to protect the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) disability benefit from a planned £12 billion welfare squeeze.
"We have just introduced this new disability benefit which is better than the old Disability Living Allowance, and that is protected."