Echoes of Super Mac

By Graham DinesPolitical EditorHAROLD Macmillan famously won the 1959 General Election using the slogan "you've never had it so good".This has now been trumped by Chancellor Gordon Brown, who signalled the start of the next election campaign by boasting in the Commons yesterday that Britain was now enjoying its highest level of prosperity for 200 years.

By Graham Dines

By Graham Dines

Political Editor

HAROLD Macmillan famously won the 1959 General Election using the slogan "you've never had it so good".

This has now been trumped by Chancellor Gordon Brown, who signalled the start of the next election campaign by boasting in the Commons yesterday that Britain was now enjoying its highest level of prosperity for 200 years.

His Budget can be summed up in three words – slash and spend. He is slashing tens of thousands of civil service jobs and spending the savings on the frontline services of health and education.

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It sounds easy, but as the savings will not fully materialise until the end of the next three-year spending cycle, there will be no need for thousands of Government employees to receive their P45s until after the next General Election.

Drawing up the battle-lines for an election widely expected in May 2005, the Chancellor promised big increases for public services – and Labour MPs sitting on marginal majorities in East Anglia professed themselves delighted.

Braintree MP, Alan Hurst, and Harwich MP, Ivan Henderson, praised the Chancellor's decision to divert cash from civil service jobs towards extra investment in hospitals and schools and helping pensioners pay for above-inflation rises in council tax.

Mr Hurst, whose majority of 358 makes him highly-vulnerable to a Conservative revival, highlighted three of the Chancellor's measures that he believed would be widely welcomed.

"Firstly schools, which since Labour won power have seen extra classrooms, school halls and increased levels of staff. Now they are to receive even more help to spend cash on their own priorities," he said.

"Secondly, the £100 payment to households containing someone aged over 70 is the Government's way of recompensing for the increases in council tax which have hit pensioners disproportionately.

"Thirdly, abolition of VAT on church repairs for two years will help buildings which are not only architecturally significant, but are major community assets."

Mr Henderson said paying more money directly to schools meant local education authorities could not interfere in the priorities that headteachers and staff wanted to set.

"I have four new schools being built in the Harwich constituency – the Government's investment in education is continuing and visible to everybody," he added.

"Gordon Brown is committed to helping the elderly and this can be seen in the extra £100 for households containing someone aged 70 and over and £200 for those with a person who is 80 or over."

Chris Mole, the Labour MP for Ipswich, declared that "another Budget committed to investment in public services is only possible because Gordon Brown has delivered a stable economy with continuing growth, low inflation, low interest rates and in which payments for Government debt have been vastly reduced."

He added: "I welcome the further investment that can happen because the Government is no longer paying either the high cost of unemployment or the unsustainable debt the last Conservative government ran up."

Mr Mole said expansion of higher education towards the 50% target brought the prospect of a university based in Ipswich another step closer.

It was a Budget that left the Conservatives flailing and the region's Tory MPs, usually highly voluble, were silent, as was our only Liberal Democrat.

Only West Chelmsford's Tory MP, Simon Burns, responded and he simply echoed the words of his leader Michael Howard that it was a "borrow now, tax later Budget from the borrow now, tax later Chancellor. If he has his way, the country will pay for it later in Labour's third term tax rises".

Mr Burns added: "The Chancellor announced extra borrowing totalling £140billion over the next five years, but also told us how well the economy is doing.

"The Budget, therefore, begs the question that if the economy is doing so well, why does he have to borrow so much?

"Since 1997 we have already had 60 tax rises which have hit everyone, including my constituents, hard.

"We, therefore, now pay 50% more in tax than we did when Labour came to power. If Labour is elected at the next election, further increases will be inevitable."

The Conservative believe taxes will have to rise to pay for Gordon Brown's borrowing.

Perhaps they have a cunning plan – lose the next election, watch the economy get into a mess and win the 2009 poll as the nation rebels against Labour's "inevitable" tax rises.

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