Clarke rules out 'hell-for-leather' tax cuts

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The Independent Online
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kenneth Clarke, insisted yesterday that he would not "bribe" the electorate with tax cuts the country cannot afford, but added that he still hoped to deliver the Government target of a 20p basic rate in the next Parliament.

Mr Clarke, who is under growing pressure from Conservative right-wingers to cut at least 2p off the basic rate to woo voters in the run-up to the general election, stuck to his guns in a series of television and newspaper interviews at the weekend. He emphasised that there would be no "hell- for-leather" tax cuts in an interview for BBC Radio Scotland's Eye to Eye programme.

Mr Clarke said that when he drew up his Budget he would start on the basis of keeping public finances in a healthy state, paying for public services as necessary, then deciding whether tax cuts could be afforded. "I don't think tax cuts come-what-may, hell for leather - making tax cuts that can't actually be afforded - will win us any votes," he said. "It certainly would not do any good to the economy. So, as last year, I shall make tax cuts if we can afford them, only if we can afford them, and this year who knows?"

He went on: "I think the elector wants to see us running the economy in that sensible, responsible fashion. I have a high regard for the British electorate I don't think you can bribe them by making tax cuts which are obviously not sensible."

While admitting, on BBC1's On the Record programme, that government borrowing was too high, Mr Clarke said it did not mean public spending was out of control. "We are borrowing more than we expected, but not because we have lost control of spending," he said. "We have had the three toughest years of spending controls since the war and we have delivered on the button. No government has done that for years.

Mr Clarke was adamant he would not throw away the Conservative achievements of the lowest mortgage rates for 30 years, low inflation, lower unemployment and a growing economy, simply to placate those who called for big tax cuts.

And in an interview in the Observer, Mr Clarke warned the Tory right that he would defend the welfare state by refusing to take the axe to benefits in order to finance tax cuts.

A modern European country required a strong welfare state to increase people's willingness to accept change, he said.