Bishop attacks 'blinkered' Tories: Imposition of VAT on fuel criticised as departure from basic Christian code

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The Independent Online
THE CONSERVATIVES yesterday were accused by the Bishop of Durham of 'fleeing' from the Christian Commandment to 'love thy neighbour' with tax increases such as VAT on fuel.

The Rt Rev David Jenkins attacked Ann Widdecombe, the employment minister, for describing the Easter message by the Archbishop of Canterbury as a 'party political broadcast'.

'She is fleeing as some many Tories are from the reality about the command to love your neighbour in so many practical, down-to-earth ways.

'I have had lots of it this week, people getting their taxes, poor people wondering how they are going to cope, especially with VAT on fuel. It is very real and has to be faced. The Gospel of Christ and the power of the Spirit gives us the chance.'

Dr Jenkins, who is due to retire, has been a regular critic of the Government, but his remarks on the BBC Radio 4 programme Today were his most outspoken attack on Tory values.

They came as Labour prepared today to launch its attack on the tax increases and Stephen Dorrell, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, defended the Budget. In a letter to Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, he challenged Labour to say by how much it would raise taxes to meet its pledges.

Mr Dorrell is planning to return to the attack today but Dr Jenkins's remarks undermined his defence. 'We get slogans on the radio. There is no decent argument going on,' the Bishop said.

'They are so narrow-minded and so blinkered by their commitment to this total domination of the markets and finance and freedom of choice for people with money that they are not paying attention to what they are doing to the bottom third of society, and they are getting worse.'

It was 'boom' in small places but the economic boom was not being shared, he added. He believed the sermon preached by Dr George Carey about the widening of the gap between rich and poor was becoming 'normal - so people who squawk about it will have to face up to it'.

The Bishop also regarded the Archbishop's sermon as a recognition of his own view, that the message of the resurrection should be used to preach the power of practical measures to overcome poverty. 'It was a resurrection sermon like my sermon. The resurrection shows the power to overcome sin and death.

'The sin at the moment in this society is that we are so indifferent to what is happening, to think there's only one way forward. I was exhorting people like the Archbishop to believe in this resurrection power and to tackle loving our neighbours in the practical ways we need to do, in reorganising economics and politics.'

Tax increases which begin to bite this week will reduce living standards, hit consumer spending and threaten the fall in unemployment, according to a TUC report today.

An analysis by TUC economists found that growth this year will be nearer 2 per cent than the 3 per cent that more optimistic forecasters were hoping for, with economic recovery 'undermined' by the tax hikes.

The report, Recovery in Danger?, warns that consumer spending will be deterred by fear of debt and unemployment which will reduce the incentive for firms to invest.

Hopes of a significant cut in unemployment are 'fading fast', and urgent government action is needed to stimulate recovery, including a 1 per cent cut in interest rates.

It says ministers are 'deluding themselves' about the nature of the jobs recovery which had been based on part-time work and self-employment.

The TUC analysis showed that hours worked in the economy fell in the year to autumn 1993 despite an increase in the number of people with a job.

'A jobs recovery based on part- time work will make it much more difficult for the Chancellor to meet the PSBR targets, despite the massive tax rise,' the report warns.