Cameron drops policies and admits: I messed up

Extra prison places and tax breaks for savers are missing from draft manifesto
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Indy Politics

David Cameron dropped another two Tory proposals yesterday as he continued a "softly, softly" rewrite of his party's programme for government because of the economic crisis it would inherit.

The Tory leader said he was no longer committed to providing an extra 5,000 prison places or to abolishing income tax on savings for people paying the basic rate of tax.

Tory insiders admit that the party's draft election manifesto, which is being rolled out on an issue-by-issue basis this month, is being used to water down expensive policy commitments.

One Shadow Cabinet source said: "There is a lot of rewriting going on. Some policies will be carried out 'in the lifetime of a parliament', others 'when resources allow' and others will disappear. But we will inherit a crisis in the public finances and have to deal with it."

Labour claimed on Monday that there is a £34bn "black hole" in the Tories' spending plans. Although the Tories strongly denied the charge, some of the policies being jettisoned did feature in a 148-page dossier issued by the Chancellor, Alistair Darling.

They include a £2.6bn plan to reduce tax for savers. Mr Cameron said yesterday that this had been a "Budget submission" to the Government last year, adding: "That is not something we can currently pledge to do." A year ago, Mr Cameron said: "To help deal with Labour's debt crisis and help turn Britain from a spend, spend, spend society into a save, save, save society, it is time to abolish income tax on savings for everyone on the basic rate of tax."

Yesterday he said a long-standing Tory pledge to provide an extra 5,000 prison places, which Labour opposed, had been "partly done" by the Government. Instead, he promised to abolish the early release scheme for prisoners and for courts to set out a minimum and maximum jail sentence. The 5,000 extra places, promised in 2008, could have cost £170m. But 3,500 would have been funded by the sale of city prisons and property values have declined since.

Mr Cameron also conceded the Tories had downgraded a pledge to provide 45,000 single rooms in NHS hospitals within five years. He described it as "an aspiration" but added: "It is not a pledge we can guarantee for a [five-year] parliament."

However, Mr Cameron stood by plans for a two-year freeze in council tax, dubbed the most unpopular tax by the Tories, funded by cutting government spending on advertising and consultants.

The Tory leader admitted he had "messed up" this week over his party's commitment to recognise marriage in the tax system, but insisted it would be delivered within a parliament. "We have to be very careful about the commitment and pledges we make but that is a pledge we feel we are able to make," he told BBC Radio 4.

He said: "I give dozens of interviews every week and on Monday I messed up and there is no other way of putting it. I was thinking about all sorts of different things, and I misdescribed our policy. I immediately corrected that. But in my view there's only one thing worse than messing up, and that is messing up and not admitting to it."

In, out, in doubt: Conservative policy pledges

Policies still in - for now

* Raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1m

* Two-year freeze in council tax bills

* Reward marriage financially through the tax system

* Cuts in corporation tax for business


* Abolish the tax on savings for basic rate taxpayers

* 5,000 extra prison places

* 45,000 single rooms in NHS hospitals

* A moratorium on hospital closures

In doubt

* Abolish the 50p-in-the-pound top tax rate on incomes over £150,000

* 4,200 more health visitors

* Maternity nurses for every new mother

* Boost pension funds, possibly by scrapping stamp duty on shares