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LONDON – It's a common refrain: Politicians are all the same. The party platforms released this week for Britain's May 7 election tell a more diverse story, revealing, amid their hundreds of pages, which party wants to bring an NBA team to Britain and which has pledged to help bees.
British political manifestos lay out in detail each party's plans for government. The contents are important, but so is the manifesto launch, a televised rally-cum-press conference designed to cement the party brand.
"Essentially it gives the party their day, their guaranteed day in the sun." said Steven Fielding, director of the Center for British Politics at the University of Nottingham.
Ill-considered policies can return to haunt parties. In 2010 the Liberal Democrats made a promise to abolish university tuition fees. Then the party joined a coalition government that tripled them. It has since lost more than half its support.
And poor preparation can be an embarrassment. U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage has said his party's 2010 manifesto was "drivel. I didn't read it." He promised Wednesday that he has "read, absorbed and understood" every word this time around.
Here's what the parties are pledging:
Britain has had a rocky time since the 2008 financial crisis, and all parties are trying to convince voters that they will keep the economic recovery on track.
Conservatives and Labour, the two biggest parties, both promise to cut the deficit, crack down on tax evasion and help "hardworking families."
The center-right Conservatives want to show they support working people and not just the rich. They're promising an extension of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's iconic "right to buy" policy that let thousands of social-housing tenants buy their own homes in the 1980s.
"We're the party of working people," Prime Minister David Cameron, the party's leader, said at Tuesday's launch.
Left-leaning Labour is striving to appear fiscally responsible, so the first page of its manifesto promises that a Labour government will cut the deficit every year.
"The books will be balanced and the national debt will be falling," leader Ed Miliband said.
The Liberal Democrats say they're the happy median. Leader Nick Clegg promised at Wednesday's manifesto launch to "add a heart to a Conservative government and a brain to a Labour one."
Immigration is one of the defining issues of the election.
It's UKIP's centerpiece, and has driven the once-fringe party up to third place in opinion polls. UKIP's manifesto promises to leave the European Union, "take back control of our borders" and restrict immigration to skilled workers needed by the British economy.
The other parties have also toughened their rhetoric. The Conservatives say they will deliver "annual net migrations in the tens of thousands not the hundreds of thousands." That was a promise in 2010 that the party failed to make good on; now it's just an "ambition."
Labour says immigration needs to be "controlled and managed so that it is fair," but adds: "Labour will never cut Britain off from the rest of the world."
Britain is both an island nation and an international hub, and its complex relationship with Europe and the wider world is an underlying election issue.
Under pressure from UKIP, Cameron's Tories have promised a referendum on European Union membership by 2017.
Labour says the Conservatives have left Britain "sidelined in Europe and isolated abroad," and argues it's essential Britain stays in the EU. The Liberal Democrats are also staunchly pro-Europe, but say they will cut bureaucracy and waste.
The Conservatives, Labour and UKIP all say they will keep Britain's submarine-based nuclear weapons, while the Lib Dems want to reduce their number. The Green Party wants to scrap nukes completely.
Labour wants to replace Parliament's unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords, with an elected "senate of the nations and regions," while the Liberal Democrats want to change the voting system.
UKIP, meanwhile, says it will hold a referendum every two years on an issue that gets 2 million signatures on a petition.
AND ANOTHER THING
Other eye-catching manifesto promises include a Conservative vow to build "greater links with the U.S. National Football League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, with the ultimate ambition of new franchises being based here."
Meanwhile, the animal-friendly Greens say they would ban foie gras, outlaw monkeys as pets and "help bees" by banning the use of pesticides.
The Lib Dems also make a play for the beekeeper vote with a promise of "legal protection for bumblebee nests."
Follow Jill Lawless on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless