Conservative Response: Cameron goes on the offensive

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Indy Politics

David Cameron launched his most aggressive attack yet on Gordon Brown as he denounced the Chancellor, insisting: "He is the past".

Mr Cameron abandoned his usual attempt to avoid "punch and judy politics " to rain blows on Mr Brown in the first major clash between the two men destined to lead the battle for the keys to Downing Street at the next general election. He won cries for "more" from his own side as he faced Mr Brown, branding him "stuck in the past".

He said: "He is an analogue politician in a digital age. He is the past. "

The Conservative leader had to shout to be heard above heckling Labour MPs in a speech lasting just eight minutes. He claimed Mr Brown had failed to address the environment, telling MPs: "This was not a genuinely green budget. That is not surprising because this is a Chancellor who has not made a major speech on the environment in 10 years. In a carbon-conscious world, we've got a fossil-fuel Chancellor."

Sir Alan Haselhurst, the deputy speaker, strongly rebuked Labour MPs as Mr Cameron faced a barrage from the Government benches.

Mr Cameron praised proposals to boost youth volunteering, "not least because we proposed them". He said: "I like what is happening. I come up with the ideas - he puts them in his Budget."

But he turned his fire on Mr Brown, insisting that he was the architect of Labour's policies, not the solution to their failure. Mr Cameron said: " Cut through all the rhetoric and what we've got is a Chancellor who has taxed too much, borrowed too much and is the roadblock to reform. He is a politician completely stuck in the past."

Mr Cameron delighted Tory backbenchers as he attacked Mr Brown, throwing out slabs of his prepared text to improvise his attack. He said the Budget contained nothing about the Health Service. He said: "Labour MPs may think the Chancellor is their salvation from the mess they find themselves in this week. But when you look at the big failures of this Government, not the sleaze and the spin, but the failures of policy, they are the Chancellor's failures.

"The failure to spend money wisely, the failure to reform public services, the failure to protect people's pensions, the failure to prepare for Britain's future, those failures are made in Downing Street, number 10, number 11.

"The Chancellor may see himself as the rock upon which Labour can rebuild their church, instead he is the roadblock stopping Britain from meeting the challenges of the future."

He chastised Mr Brown for increasing the tax burden to record levels, while still proposing borrowing of £175bn over six years, and mocked the Chancellor's bombastic style. "I know he is a man in a hurry but that's no excuse for belting out figures like some super-charged bookmaker," he said.

Mr Cameron said: "This Chancellor is mortgaging this country's future. That is over £6,000 of debt for every household in this country. Those are the facts. For all of the years of spin about enterprise, about prudence, we have finally got to the truth. He is an old fashioned tax and spend Chancellor."

He added: "The story of this week is of a Prime Minister and a Chancellor up to their necks in debt, making promises they can't keep and not knowing whether to work together or fight with each other as the ship starts going down.

"There are two central facts which tell us the real story of this Budget. First the tax burden is now at its highest ever level in the history of this country - higher than when Denis Healey made the pips squeak, higher than when Ramsay MacDonald was sitting where the Prime Minister is sitting now."

He said: "He told us that his borrowing forecasts were correct. Yes. He correctly forecast that the public finances are in a mess. He is borrowing £37bn this year. He told us that his economic growth forecasts were correct. Yes. He correctly told us British would grow more slowly than the United States, Canada, the G7, Spain, Ireland, the OECD and Australia."

He attacked Mr Brown's record on public services, warning: "He has doubled spending on the health service, but this weekend one hospital sacked almost 1,000 staff. Deficits across the NHS have now reached £1bn.

"He has doubled spending on education but more than half of our children leave school without the required standard."

Mr Cameron went on: "Billions raised, billions spent, no idea where the money's gone. With a record like that the Chancellor should be running for treasurer of the Labour Party."

He also attacked the Chancellor's record on pensions, repeating the party's charge that Mr Brown has siphoned £5bn out of pension funds. He said: "The Chancellor, who has smashed up the pension system, cannot be the right person to rebuild it."

George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, attacked the Chancellor's " cynical" failure to repeat last year's £200 council tax rebate for pensioners. He said: "Before the election Gordon Brown gave pensioners a £200 council tax payment. Now, after the election, it's been dropped altogether. There could be no better example of a Gordon Brown smoke-and-mirrors Budget. It is a cynical betrayal of pensioners."

John Redwood, the former Conservative cabinet minister, said: "The Chancellor is increasing the mortgage of every man, woman and child in the country by £3,000 per head and that's just the borrowing he admits to. The true figure is much higher when you take account of all the off-balance sheet borrowing and public sector liabilities."

Peter Viggers, Conservative MP for Gosport, said the Government was wedded to the "belief that socialism and the public sector can solve every problem." He said: "There's a complete difference between those who don't enhance the worth of the country and those that do."

* Treasury Budget site

* Chancellor's Statement in full