The two heavyweights in Britain's general election campaign - the ruling Conservatives, and the opposition Labour Party - yesterday entered the fray with diametrically opposed political platforms. Margaret Thatcher, who is trying for a third term as prime minister, offered voters a ``Tory revolution'' in which inflation would be brought down to zero, income tax anchored at 25 percent, and British society opened up to give the individual as much freedom of choice as possible.
Neil Kinnock, who is fighting his first general election as Labour's leader, unwrapped a totally different policy package, including a state-sponsored 12 billion ($20 billion) war on unemployment, crime, and poverty. Against Tory determination to keep Britain's independent nuclear deterrent, Mr. Kinnock promised that a Labour government would get rid of nuclear weapons and tell the United States to remove its warheads from British soil. But there seemed to be less urgency about this part of the policy than in recent statements on the issue.
The two leaders were launching their manifestoes for the June 11 general election 24 hours after Britain's ``third force'' - the Social Democratic-Liberal Alliance - published its own. Presented by David Steel and David Owen, the Alliance program tried to chart a ``middle course'' aimed at getting rid of class divisions in Britain, cutting unemployment by 1 million through a ``controlled expansion'' of state spending, and keeping a ``minimum'' nuclear deterrent.
As the general election struggle began to get into full swing, most opinion polls showed Mrs. Thatcher and the Tories some 10 to 12 percent ahead of Labour, but with the latter showing some signs of closing the gap. The Alliance is trailing in third place.
In British election campaigns the manifestoes are important in setting the tone the parties propose to adopt as the struggle heats up. The 77-page Tory manifesto is far more detailed than that of the Alliance (23 pages) and Labour (17).
By this measure, Thatcher and the Conservative Party chairman, Norman Tebbit, have clearly decided that the best way to secure a third term in government is to adopt a rhetorical line with the emphasis on giving the individual citizen wider choice in such matters as housing and schooling.
Once again, the Tories are determined to inspire the growth of small businesses to build up the British economy.
Labour's manifesto is a solemn document. Introducing it, Kinnock said that the ``injustices of Thatcherism'' could not be overcome ``cheaply or easily.''
The government's recent 2 percent income tax cut was ``a bribe'' that a Labour government would reverse. Kinnock promised a wealth tax on the top 1 percent of the population.
There are indications that Kinnock will try to soft-pedal his previously staunch antinuclear theme and, at the same time, underline that a Labour government would keep Britain in NATO.
A surprising element in the Tory manifesto was a proposal that council tenants could not buy their houses (a feature of Thatcherite policy for the past seven years) but form tenants' cooperatives. These would have the effect of taking the administration of publicly-owned housing out of the control of local councils.
One note of strong agreement: All three party documents stress the threat of rising crime and promise more police to promote law and order in Britain.