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NHS at heart of Miliband's pitch

Ed Miliband put the NHS at the heart of his general election pitch today, promising to boost funding by soaking mansion owners, tax dodgers and tobacco firms.

The Labour leader used his final conference speech before the crunch poll to set out a bold 10-year plan for creating a "world class" country that functioned for ordinary working people.

Stressing the party's commitment to fiscal discipline, Mr Miliband insisted he would not borrow a penny more than the coalition to deliver fundamental change.

He made clear that funds would be raised in other ways and where the Tories stood for "wealth and privilege", Labour would prioritise "hard work and fair pay".

But he was mocked by political opponents after failing to deliver the parts of his intended speech - given from notes without a prompter - about addressing the deficit and immigration.

Under the proposals set out by the Opposition leader, £2.5 billion a year will be poured into a Time To Care fund to tackle shortages that have left wards, surgeries and care homes dangerously understaffed.

Its first priority will be the recruitment of 20,000 nurses, 8,000 GPs, 3,000 midwives and 5,000 care workers, as part of a wider shift to a more integrated health and care system proposed by the party.

The money will come from a new annual "mansion tax" on £2 million-plus homes, a US-style levy on cigarette manufacturers and a promise to find ways to close tax loopholes that the party says cost the Treasury £1.1 billion.

"We won't borrow a penny to do it," Mr Miliband told the gathering in Manchester, where shadow chancellor Ed Balls yesterday warned activists that austerity would continue under Labour - including a fresh squeeze on child benefit.

"And we won't do it by raising taxes on everyday working people."

Instead, those paying for the improvement would be tax-dodging hedge funds, tobacco giants "who make soaring profit on the back of ill health" and those wealthy enough to own large homes, he said.

"The NHS is sliding backwards under this Government. They are privatising and fragmenting it. Just think what it would look like after five more years.

"We built the NHS. We saved the NHS. We will repeal their Health and Social Care Bill and we will transform the NHS for the future."

Mr Miliband stressed the party's commitment to fiscal discipline, insisting a "world class" country can be achieved without "big spending".

But Mr Miliband laid out a series of goals the party would aim to achieve by the end of a second term.

Doubling the number of first-time buyers to 400,000 a year, boosting apprenticeship take-up until it matches the number going to university, halving the number of low-paid workers and creating a million new "green" technology jobs were all part of his "national mission".

"Can anyone build a better future for the working people of Britain? That is the general election question," he said.

"Our task is to restore people's faith in the future."

He hailed his conference-opening pledge to raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour by 2020 as the best way of "rewarding the talents of all".

Setting out the plans to double the numbers getting on the housing ladder - partly through a pledge to be building 200,000 new homes a year by 2020 - he said property ownership is "that most British of dreams" but that it had "faded" for too many young people priced out of the market.

He called for a "revolution in apprenticeships" to ensure as many school leavers go into one as now go on to study for a degree.

At present four times as many go to university, "leaving both young people and businesses without the skills they need to succeed for the future", he added.

There would be action to tackle the "modern injustice" of self-employed people lacking pensions and being refused mortgages, he said.

And ensuring the UK caught up with countries such as Germany, Japan, the United States, India and China in creating jobs in green technology was "the most important thing I can do in politics for the future of my kids and their generation," he said.

Mr Miliband made a point of thanking former prime minister Gordon Brown for his role in securing a No vote in the Scottish referendum - after leaving him out of a list of thank-yous on stage yesterday.

He insisted that many people north of the border had been asking: "Is anyone going to make life better for me and my family?"

"That wasn't just the referendum question, that is the general election question," he said.

In a series of barbed attacks on his political rivals during the 65-minute speech, Mr Miliband said David Cameron's Conservatives were "the best example of the 'you're on your own', 'rig the system for the powerful' insecure throwback dogma".

He painted the Prime Minister as a champion of millionaires who was more interested in playing Angry Birds on his iPad and taking on Russian oligarchs at tennis than representing ordinary people.

The Tory leader was "unfit" to be prime minister because he was "pandering" to Ukip and risking the integrity of the UK.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg had "destroyed" trust between politicians and voters by reneging on his promise to block tuition fee rises.

The coalition government as a whole had a record that was not just mediocre, but "one of the worst ever", he said.

Mr Miliband also warned that another Tory-led government was the biggest threat Britain faced to its future prosperity, as Mr Cameron already had "one hand on the exit door" of the EU.

Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said: "Ed Miliband puts himself forward to be prime minister, but he failed to offer any serious plan to grow the economy - he didn't even mention once how he would reduce the deficit.

"All Ed Miliband offers is more wasteful spending, more borrowing and more taxes. You can't fund the NHS if you lose control of the nation's finances and bankrupt the economy like Labour did last time."

Labour's "tough new approach" to the economy - which includes eliminating the deficit as soon as possible in the next parliament - and it's policies on immigration had been highlighted in a extracts of the intended speech briefed to journalists.

A Labour source said that it was "a long speech and of course some things changed in delivery" but pointed out that the party leader had mentioned a commitment not to borrow further to fund spending promises.

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