Budget was not aimed at the ballot box, say Blair and Brown

Gordon Brown tried yesterday to head off the Tories' allegation that he will have to raise taxes if Labour retains power at the general election, expected next year.

The Chancellor said he could have cut taxes in his Budget on Wednesday. "My choice was whether to cut tax rates - which I could have done with the money available - or invest in public services, which is what I did," he said.

Tony Blair,, who visited a school in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, with Mr Brown yesterday to underline the rise in education spending announced by the Chancellor, denied it was an electioneering Budget. "If people say it is a ballot-box Budget, what they mean is it is a popular Budget," he said. "It's popular because we have a strong economy." Despite Mr Brown's denial, the Tories warned a tax hike would follow a Labour election victory.

Oliver Letwin, the shadow Chancellor, said: "The choice for voters is clear: more tax rises under Labour or a Conservative government that will avoid those tax rises by being more careful with people's money."

Mr Letwin denied that Mr Brown had "shot the Conservative fox" by cutting waste in Whitehall. "By admitting to £20bn of government waste, he has shot himself in the foot," he said. "Never again will he be able to argue that cutting back the growth of public spending means reducing frontline services."

Kenneth Clarke, the former chancellor, said the Budget had deferred tax increases until after the election. He said: "If he [Mr Brown] can win an election, we will have tax increases. To avoid a spending, taxing, borrowing problem, he is going to need a great deal of luck."

Mr Brown denied he would spend money he had not yet saved. He said: "The money we are putting into education and to pensioners has come from three sources: cutting the national debt and, therefore, debt interest payments; cutting unemployment and social security; and the benefits from the growth that has continued throughout the world downturn."

* Mr Blair was described as a "war criminal" by a protester when he visited a school in Enfield, north London. Michael Start was escorted from the premises by police but was not arrested.

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