Local Elections: Lib Dems seize on broken Tory promises

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The Independent Online
AN AUDIT of more than 20 broken Conservative election pledges was issued to Liberal Democrat candidates yesterday to mark the second anniversary of John Major's general election victory.

The document will be used on doorsteps by the party's candidates to convince Tory voters in the local and European elections that they elected the Government in 1992 on a false prospectus, from taxation to overseas aid.

The aim of the document is to portray Mr Major as a vacillating leader, and his party as untrustworthy. The Liberal Democrats have hijacked Labour's campaign slogan 'You can't trust the Tories'.

The key target is this week's tax rises. The document recalls that Mr Major said on 24 March 1992: 'We do not see any need to increase the tax burden.' On 27 March, he said: 'We have no need and no plans to extend the scope of VAT.'

It also reminds candidates that the manifesto promised to raise the tax threshold on inheritance tax, but that has been frozen for two years, and the promise to abolish the stamp duty on share transactions has been abandoned. Black Wednesday, when Britain was forced out of the exchange rate mechanism of the European Monetary System, shattered another promise - which many Tories later welcomed. The manifesto said: 'In due course, we will move to the narrow bands on the ERM.'

Other alleged broken Tory promises include: Mr Major's pledge to remain at the heart of Europe; a review of the disclosure of information retaining only the restrictions needed to protect privacy and essential confidentiality; giving the police the support and resources they need - the chief constables asked for 4,462 more officers and the Government gave them none; increasing the number of bail hostel places - 11 hostels are closing; maintaining support for the arts - funding will fall over the next three years; deregulating and privatising London buses - abandoned in November 1993.

The manifesto also promised 'to keep firm control over public spending'. By the end of 1993, the public-sector borrowing requirement was estimated to rise to a record pounds 50bn, largely due to higher- than-expected unemployment.

However, the picture of the Prime Minister constantly doing U-turns is as misleading as some of the 1992 Tory election propaganda. Mr Major fulfilled his pledge that Britain would ratify the Maastricht treaty, in the teeth of fierce Tory backbench opposition; he has stuck to the unpopular policies of privatising British Rail and British Coal, with widespread colliery closures.

On taxes, the Tories carefully avoided ruling out raising taxes in their manifesto. It merely promised: 'To continue to reduce taxes as fast as we prudently can.' In fact, they have fulfilled some tax pledges. It said: 'We will make further progress towards a basic income tax of 20p.' The Chancellor further widened the 20p band up to pounds 3,000 in his Budget in November, in spite of raising taxes.

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