Spending and taxation - we need truth

TORY health spokesman Andrew Lansley's shambolic Radio 4 interview last week on public spending cuts has breathed new life into Gordon Brown, who now screams “Mr 10%” on every occasion he talks about David Cameron.

Graham Dines

TORY health spokesman Andrew Lansley's shambolic Radio 4 interview last week on public spending cuts has breathed new life into Gordon Brown, who now screams “Mr 10%” on every occasion he talks about David Cameron.

Lansley, who is one of the least impressive of Cameron's shadow team, came out with this financial admission just as Labour was squirming over public sector cuts it is going to have to make but pretends it won't have to.

But it seems initial Tory high command anger at Lansley, who had broken the Conservatives' code of silence over future public spending, has since turned into gratitude. The unguarded comments have has focused attention of Labour policy and caused a huge spat between the Treasury and the man-who-would-be Chancellor, Education Secretary Ed Balls.


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Only someone who has inhabited the closed world of Britain's Got Talent for months would believe that the huge debt that Labour has piled up can be repaid without having to cut public spending.

And if the free spending National Health Service is to be shielded from the scalpel, then it surely follows that other departments must pay the price.

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Quite frankly, it is amazing that politicians won't treat us as adults. We need a proper debate on the lines of: we're in a global downturn and recession, we've had to raid the public finances and borrow heavily to stop the banks foreclosing on your mortgages or even going under, and this cash has to be found by either raising taxes, reducing expenditure, or a combination of both.

None of us is daft. Unemployment goes up and so spending on social security benefits has to rise to pay increased social security costs. The cost of part nationalising banks has to come from somewhere.

The UK is not Zimbabwe, which is printing money and fuelling massive inflation - we're one of the world's leading economies, we're in a mess, and we need a government which will engage with the public and admit the truth.

It doesn't matter if that government is Labour or Conservative. But neither party wants to come clean in case it leads to them losing the next election.

Voters already blame Brown for the financial chaos and, unfairly, the expenses fiddles of MPs. The longer he holds out from telling us what we already know, the heavier he will fall.

It's time for Cameron to say what the Conservatives would do. But he's unsure about a voter backlash.

Cameron's insistence that direct taxes will be reduced in the first term of a Tory government is as implausible as Brown, Alistair Darling and Balls pretending there'll be no cut in public spending.

This week shadow chancellor George Osborne insisted there would have to be cuts irrespective of who is in power. But Balls, the master of disinformation, said Tory plans for tax cuts in national insurance contributions and inheritance tax would mean cuts in spending on schools and hospitals while at the same time declining to make spending commitments himself.

Liam Byrne, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, says it is not plausible to talk now about the economy after the London Olympics, in 2012 - so why does he believe only the Conservatives should do just that?

Both parties are walking on a tightrope. George Osborne came closest to realism when he said: “Perhaps the most important lesson from around the world is that if you talk honestly to the public about the spending decisions that need to be taken, they will respect you and support you.

“It is time for the Conservatives to have that conversation with the British people.”

Good. Let that conversation begin. And instead of jeering at “Mr 10%,” Gordon Brown should take the initiative and set the ball rolling before MPs clear off from Westminster for their three-month long summer recess.

GUMMER BACKS LISBON TREATY

TORY insistence that it will hold a plebiscite on the Treaty of Lisbon if it has not been fully ratified at the time of the election looks like a hollow gesture. Ireland is likely to vote `yes' in its referendum in the autumn, paving the way for implementation even if the David Cameron becomes Prime Minister.

Not all Tories oppose the Treaty, although these Europhiles would not stand in the way of a UK referendum. Suffolk Coastal's John Gummer said in the Commons this week that “some of us who are in favour of the Lisbon Treaty and against referendums still believe that parties that promise a referendum to the people of Britain ought to keep that promise. I believe a referendum to be contrary to the nature of parliamentary democracy-but we did have a promise, and that promise has been broken. That is what undermines the moral authority of this Government.”

DEMOCRACY AT 13p A VOTE

THE English Democrats Party, which campaigns for England to have a devolved parliament similar to the Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland assemblies, spent just �35,524 on the European elections campaign.

Its chairman Robin Tilbrook, who is based in Ongar in Essex, said: “We doubled our 2004 vote, to 279,801 votes, an average of 2.1% across each English electoral region. We are now indisputably the seventh largest party in England in only our seventh year of existence.”

In Dartford, the party finished in fourth place with 10.33% of the vote, and the English Democrats achieved an historic result in Doncaster, where its candidate was elected mayor in the proportional representation election.

“We only delivered just over half a million leaflets, most of these by the hands of our hard-working volunteers while the TV, radio and British national newspapers barely mentioned us,” said Mr Tilbrook.

“Campaigning in the EU elections has cost us a total of �35,524 - which means that we have spent less than 13p per vote, making us not only cheerful for what we could have achieved if we had both more money and fair coverage from the broadcast media and British national press, but also that we are far, far cheaper per vote than any other serious political party!

“Looking at the broader nationalist picture: in Wales, Plaid Cymru, got 126,702; and in Scotland, the SNP got 321,007; giving us a total democratic nationalist vote, in mainland Great Britain, of 727,510.”

COLCHESTER Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell has been re-elected vice-chairman of the all-party Parliamentary Weight Watchers Group, which organises a weigh-in at Westminster every Tuesday evening. “Thanks to the advice from Weight Watchers, it is more a case of the weight I have not put on - and that is important.”

It must be all that food he claimed for on his expenses!

SPEAKER Michael Martin makes his valedictory speech to the House of Commons, criticising the party leaders for not backing the reforms his committee had suggested in July last year, which he believes would have staunched the rotten expenses system which has engulfed MPs.

Mr Martin, whose kindness and humanity were not matched by his public relations and oratorical skills, warned MPs that the expenses scandal meant they would be “criticised strongly, particularly for this sad period” but when scorned they should take comfort from a Robert Burns poem:

“Then gently scan your brother man,

“Still gentler sister woman;

“Tho' they may go a little wrong,

“To step aside is human.”

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