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Cameron: Tory majority within reach

David Cameron has promised voters the chance to buy Lloyds bank shares at discount prices if the Conservatives win the General Election - as he renewed warnings of the "frightening prospect" of a Labour government relying on SNP votes.

Despite opinion polls remaining deadlocked, the Prime Minister insisted an outright Tory majority was "within reach" and said he would be getting "out on the streets" to press home his message in the run-up to May 7.

The proposal to offer s mall investors up to £4 billion worth of Lloyds bank shares below market value was only possible because the coalition's economic plan was working, he said, and would "help us recover billions more and pay down the national debt".

Mr Cameron rejected Labour claims that the Lloyds offer had been made several times before, insisting it was the first time there had been a "retail offer to individuals so they can own shares in healthy, successful British banks".

"The crucial point of this is that it is more clearing up the mess that Labour left us," he added.

"The taxpayer put £20 billion into these banks and I want to get the money back. We have already recovered billions and this will help us to recover billions more to pay down the national debt.

"But at the same time I think having people in our country being able to own shares in a healthy, successful British bank is the sort of country we should be building."

In an often-tetchy appearance on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show he declined to rule out any post-election deal with Ukip if there was a hung parliament and said flagging poll support suggested the eurosceptic party "will be lucky if they have even one seat".

He seized on comments by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon that her party - which appears on course to snatch dozens of seats from Labour north of the border and to become the third-biggest in the Commons - would seek to "change the direction" of a Labour administration.

Ms Sturgeon - who is urging Labour leader Ed Miliband to join a "progressive" alliance with parties opposed to austerity - told the programme that fixed-term parliaments make it "possible to change the direction of a government on individual issues without bringing that government down".

But Mr Cameron said it was a recipe for other parts of the UK losing out.

"The facts of this election is that there is only one party that can achieve that overall majority and continue with the plan that is working ... and that is the Conservative Party," he said, denying that private party polling showed it was unlikely.

"The fact of this election is that Labour is facing wipe-out in Scotland ... and Nicola Sturgeon is saying that she would want to alter the course and the direction of the government vote by vote.

"This would be the first time in our history that a group of nationalists from one part of our country would be involved in altering the direction of the government of our country.

"I think that is a frightening prospect for people thinking in their own constituencies: Is that bypass going to be built? Will my hospital get the money it needs?

"Frankly, this is a group of people that wouldn't care what happened in the rest of the country. The rest of the United Kingdom - England, Wales, Northern Ireland - wouldn't get a look-in."

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said there would be an "absolute 100% total firewall" between Labour and the Scottish nationalists in relation to the first Budget.

"As Ed Miliband said a couple of weeks ago, the first Budget will be written by Ed Miliband and me, not by Nicola Sturgeon or Nigel Farage or anyone else.

"That is what we are going to do. We have been very clear," he told the Sky News Murnaghan programme.

They were the latest salvoes in a frantic hearts-and-minds battle for voters as the race for No 10 remains too close to call.

In a rare move, Mr Cameron used a Sunday Times article to issue a direct plea to Liberal Democrat and Ukip supporters to vote Tory to prevent a Labour-SNP government taking power.

Mr Miliband appealed to moderate "one nation" Tories to vote Labour, insisting that he now represented the centre ground and would keep Britain firmly in the heart of Europe

The latest polls continued to offer conflicting pictures, with an Opinium poll for The Observer giving the Tories a four-point lead over Labour, while YouGov for the Sunday Times put Labour three ahead.

"I want to reach out to Tory voters, to Liberal Democrat voters, to Ukip voters, to non-voters ... to people who feel that David Cameron can't answer the challenge of our time, who worry about our place in the European Union, who really think to themselves, 'we can do a lot better as a country'," Mr Miliband wrote in the Observer.

He described Mr Cameron as "ideologically beached" and with no answers about how to tackle inequality.

Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister Vince Cable dismissed Mr Cameron's tactical voting call as "dangerous nonsense".

He said there was no chance the Tories could win an overall majority and would end up reliant on the support of Ukip and "30 or 40 maverick Tory MPs".

"These are people who hate his guts," he told the Andrew Marr Show.

The Business Secretary insisted he had no personal preference over whether his party governed with the Conservatives or Labour in the event of another hung parliament.

Under the Lloyds plan, a proportion of the n ext tranche of the taxpayers' stake in the bank to be sold will see a proportion of shares earmarked for small investors at a discount of at least 5%.

Buyers who keep them for a year will be rewarded with a "loyalty bonus" of one additional free share for every 10 they still hold.

After last week's announcement by the Tories to revive Margaret Thatcher's Right to Buy scheme, the move recalls another of her keynote policies to build a share-owning democracy.

Pointing to Labour promises to pay for capping rail fares by dropping planned road improvement projects, Mr Cameron said: "We have already seen Labour cancelling important infrastructure projects in the South of England, in the South West.

"They have said, 'we don't care about these things because they don't matter politically'.

"Imagine what it would be like with SNP MPs backing up a weak (Labour administration)."

SNP MPs had "every right" to vote however they wanted if elected to the Commons but were there to "break up" the UK, he said.

He added that Mr Miliband "is saying that the only way he can become prime minister ... is by being supported by the SNP. He refuses to rule it out. He has been asked many times."

Amid internal concerns that an over-negative campaign was costing the Tories support, he insisted his party was "fighting the strongest and most positive campaign".

"I am happy that we are getting that very positive message across," he said, and denied being too "stage managed".

"I will be, in the next few days, taking to the streets and taking this message about how we should continue with the plan that's working and avoid this calamitous prospect.

"As far as I can see I am about the only person who has done a walkabout in this election."

He attacked housing chiefs over criticism of the Tories' "very sensible" manifesto promise to extend the right to buy policy from council to housing association tenants.

"A housing industry run by people happily living in houses that they have bought, " he said. "I want that for everybody."

He declined to discuss whether he would step down as leader if he failed to secure an overall majority, something he previously said he would regard as a failure.

Mr Balls said: "We've seen this morning a desperate Prime Minister with a faltering campaign.

"He had no answer on NHS funding, refused to rule out a coalition with Ukip and said food bank use was soaring because of better advertising. He has nothing to say about a better Britain for working families so he's talking up the SNP as his last best hope of clinging to power.

"The real choice for voters across the UK is simple - if you want a Labour government, you have to vote Labour. That's how we put an end to the Tories' failing plan that has hit family living standards and taken the NHS backwards."

Labour's Angela Eagle said the party would speak to any other party represented in the Commons to "try and build a majority" for its Queen's Speech, should they be the largest party.

Pressed to confirm Labour would deal with the SNP in some way, Ms Eagle told BBC1's Sunday Politics: "What we have said is if we're forming the largest party and writing a Queen's Speech, then we will put that Queen's Speech to the House of Commons, and if that Queen's Speech gets through a vote in the House of Commons then we will be able to begin to put it into effect.

"We'll speak to any party that has got representation in the House of Commons in order to try and build a majority for a Queen's Speech that the country desperately needs for a change of government, so we can have a country where the economy works for all working people and not just a few at the top."

Nick Clegg challenged the Tory leader to publicly rule out a post-election alliance with Ukip, telling him not to treat voters as if they are "stupid" by maintaining he was on course to a majority.

The Liberal Democrat leader said he would not join a government with the SNP or Ukip and called on the Prime Minister to do the same with Nigel Farage's party.

"David Cameron: don't treat people as if they are stupid. You know, everybody knows, that you and the Conservative Party are not going to win a majority at this election," he said on a campaign visit to Portsmouth.

"I have ruled out an alliance with the SNP, I have ruled out an alliance with Ukip, why won't you do the same?"

Ukip leader Nigel Farage welcomed the Lloyds share pledge by the Conservatives but said the "price must be right" otherwise the taxpayer will end up losing out.

Speaking on the campaign trail in the village of Ash, Kent, he said: "The whole point of the bail-out was that at some point in time this would go back into private hands.

"I'm all for people buying shares. My problem is this Government's track record isn't very good because they sold the Post Office too cheaply.

"So, fine, let's do it but the price must be right otherwise the taxpayer loses out."

He criticised the Tories' election campaign, saying the party had failed to "cut through".

"I think what they have done this week is to become an inconsistent political party," he said.

"After all, the offering from David Cameron was, 'We are the people who prudently managed the economy, we are the people who, despite the failure this term, will get the deficit down'.

"'We are the people you can trust'.

"And every morning this week has been a new offering - millions and millions of money is splurged on a whole series of issues without any thought of where the money is going to come from."

Mr Farage said the problem facing the Tories now was many potential voters were questioning whether they can trust them without funded pledges.

"I think they have made a big strategic error," he added.

The Tories also seized on the suggestion by d eputy SNP leader Stewart Hosie that the party could vote against Trident spending if it did not have any formal "confidence and supply"-type deal with Labour in a hung parliament.

"The key thing here is in the absence of a five year deal there would be no deal so we would be perfectly at liberty to table amendments to Budgets and legislation, vote against or table amendments to estimates, perfectly sensible," he told the BBC's Sunday Politics.

"Remember not every defeat for government is a confidence measure, Tony Blair lost votes in the House of Commons and the current government have lost lots of votes, these are not necessarily confidence issues at all."

Asked about the prospect of spending on the nuclear deterrent being approved by a combination of Labour and Tory votes, he said: "Well I certainly wouldn't be happy if Trident was renewed but we have said we want to lock the Tories out of power.

"The point you make about a Queen's Speech is important because in a sense a Queen's Speech is a bit of a red herring, it lays out in very general terms what might happen, the key things is that the cuts would appear in a Budget and we of course vote against cuts that we didn't like and spending would appear in the estimates and we would of course vote against any spending we didn't want to see.

"I think the key thing is if Ed Miliband can't count necessarily on the support of all of his own MPs then he certainly couldn't take the vote of SNP MPs for granted and that's the real reason I suspect there will be proper discussions before key votes."

Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps said: 'The SNP are threatening to hold Britain to ransom to guarantee an Ed Miliband government gives them what they want - weaker defences, more borrowing, more debt and more taxes.

'If the SNP vetoed defence spending for a year, our troops risk not being paid. Working people across our country will pay dearly for the economic chaos of Labour-SNP."


From Belfast Telegraph