Pre-Budget Report: Policies `stolen by a Jackdaw Chancellor'

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GORDON BROWN was branded the "Jackdaw Chancellor" last night as the Tories and Liberal Democrats accused him of stealing some of their key policies for the mini-Budget he unveiled on Tuesday.

Tony Blair declared himself content with yesterday's positive press coverage of the Chancellor's pre-Budget report, but some of the shine has come off the package - several of his plans had already been advocated by the opposition parties. At least four of Mr Brown's measures were proposed by William Hague when he unveiled a new Tory policy blueprint at his party conference last month. He called for the starting rate of tax on savings to be cut from 20p to 10p and said the move would help pensioners, a measure trumpeted by Mr Brown, who said up to 1.5 million old people would gain an average of pounds 65 from the change.

One of Mr Brown's most headline-grabbing ideas was to force people suspected of working in the "black economy" to sign on every day at benefit offices. But Mr Hague's document, The Common Sense Revolution, said if jobless people "look as if they are working and claiming or not taking a job search seriously, they must sign on at their Jobcentre daily."

This was a major U-turn by Labour. Only two weeks ago, David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, ridiculed the Tory policy, saying it would cost pounds 540m a year to force all claimants to sign on daily, and the money would be better spent finding them jobs.

The Tories also called for the abolition of the automatic annual inflation- plus rises in duty on petrol and for more tax relief on donations to charities. Both were announced by Mr Brown on Tuesday.

Francis Maude, the shadow chancellor, said: "Gordon Brown attacked all these policies when we proposed them. Picking off one or two of our tax- cutting ideas will not be enough to counter the huge stealth tax increases Labour has already imposed." One frustrated Tory strategist said: "He has stolen some of our best clothes; he is the Copycat Chancellor. This shows he hasn't got a proper strategy; all he can do is to act politically by stopping us getting the credit for our ideas." One of the most significant changes announced on Tuesday was Mr Brown's shift towards "hypothecated taxation" under which money raised is earmarked for specific policies.

He said revenue from taxes on tobacco would be channelled into the National Health Service and the proceeds of above-inflation rises in petrol duty would be spent on roads and public transport. Both policies had come from the Lib Dems, whose Treasury spokesman Matthew Taylor said yesterday: "He is the Jackdaw Chancellor. This is recognition that the innovative ideas in Britain are coming from the Lib Dems."

Mr Brown was not averse to borrowing ideas from his own side. Labour MPs noted yesterday that some of his measures to boost enterprise were foreshadowed last December in a White Paper on competitiveness published by Peter Mandelson before he resigned as Trade and Industry Secretary.

And Mr Brown's most eye-catching announcement - free television licences for people aged 75 and over - has been the subject of a long-running campaign by Labour MPs such as Dennis Skinner and David Winnick, who tried unsuccessfully to bring in a backbench bill when the Tories were in power.

Yesterday Mr Brown had a warm response when he addressed Labour MPs, although there were grumblings from the trade unions that he had not spent enough of his "war chest" on public services. John Edmonds, leader of the GMB general union, said the Chancellor should have injected half of his estimated pounds 10bn "treasure chest" now. "If he is trying to influence people's thinking before the next election he may be missing the boat," he said.

Mr Brown, who launched a drive with Tony Blair to "sell" his package, said: "People will want to think long-term about the future of their jobs. People do understand that in preference to big or excessive or inflationary wage increases, which could put inflation up, it's better to invest in your firm's success and be a stakeholder in the future."

Michael Ancram, the Tory chairman, last night accused the BBC of becoming the "Blair Broadcasting Corporation" over its coverage of the pre-Budget statement. He expressed "grave concern" that the "pro-Government bias" came a week after Greg Dyke, the former Labour Party donor appointed BBC director general, started work.