Backbench threat to Brown's tight rein

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The Independent Online
THE CHANCELLOR is facing a fresh Labour backbench rebellion over his refusal to abandon the spending limits inherited from the Tories to boost the health and education budgets.

The pressure on Gordon Brown will be increased today when a rise in the numbers waiting for NHS treatment is announced by the Secretary of State for Health, Frank Dobson.

The Liberal Democrats last night predicted that the waiting lists could be up by nearly 50,000.

The party's health spokesman, Simon Hughes, produced an estimate from the House of Commons library suggesting that the figure for last month could be up to 1,257,000 from 1,207,500 in September.

Left-wing Labour MPs and the Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown united yesterday in calling on the Chancellor to release some of the pounds 10.4bn surplus, disclosed by the Treasury on Tuesday, for higher public spending.

Dennis Skinner, the left-wing Labour MP for Bolsover, challenged Tony Blair at Prime Minister's question time to abandon the "discredited policies" of the Tory government and commit the pounds 10bn to raising spending on the NHS and education.

Mr Ashdown reminded Mr Blair that he had fought the election on a promise to reduce waiting list figures by 100,000.

Mr Dobson is engaged in a battle with Mr Brown over demands for an extra pounds 500m for the NHS in 1998-99 to cut the waiting list figures.

Mr Blair gave his backing to Mr Brown, insisting: "I believe it is absolutely essential to keep a tight rein on public expenditure. We have to make sure we keep within tight public spending limits because I will not have a situation where we go back to boom and bust."

Mr Ashdown and Labour MPs are convinced that Mr Brown will loosen the purse strings in the Budget next month to increase spending on schools and health care. They are determined to continue pressing for a relaxation of the spending limits.

t Downing Street hinted last night that the delay in the announcement of Eddie George's reappointment as Governor of the Bank of England was caused by Buckingham Palace. The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We have been trying to release this for a few days but it is a Crown appointment."