Liberal Democrats go to war with the Tories over spending cut plans

Danny Alexander makes unprecedented budget announcement of his own

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Coalition differences were laid bare today as the Liberal Democrats accused the Conservatives of wanting to cut spending so deeply that they would turn the clock back half a century.

In an unprecedented parliamentary speech, Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, set out Lib Dem tax and spending plans for the years 2015 to 2020.

Ahead of his statement, he posed outside the Treasury with a yellow “budget box” in Lib Dem colours designed to mimic the Chancellor’s official red case.

Just 24 hours earlier, he had sat alongside George Osborne as the Chancellor delivered the Government’s last major policy announcement.

Mr Alexander told MPs the Lib Dems would borrow £70bn less than Labour over the next parliament and cut £50bn less than the Tories.

He claimed his Coalition partners’ fiscal plans would reduce state spending back to levels last seen in 1964. Referring to a ground-breaking film about homelessness in the 1960s, he told MPs: “The era of Cathy Come Home is not my vision for the future of Britain.”

 

 

Mr Alexander said his party’s policy blueprint was based on “values of fairness as well as strength” which would deliver on “our commitment to balance the books in a fair way”.

He added: “It sticks to the path we have chosen in this Government, rather than lurching away from it by cutting too much or borrowing too much.”

The Lib Dem minister put himself at odds with the Tories as he said his party wanted “those with the broadest shoulders” to bear the largest share of eliminating the national deficit and backed raising an extra £6bn through tax rises.

“Those in high-value properties, the banking sector, and others should pay more, rather than asking those working on low incomes to accept less,” he declared.

Mr Alexander said the Budget was agreed by the Coalition parties and included “key Liberal Democrat commitments”. But he argued: “Millions of people watching today’s exchanges between the Chancellor and the Opposition leader were left wondering ‘Isn’t there another way to do this?’.

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Danny Alexander poses outside the Treasury with his Yellow Box (PA)

“Because, of course, people want a stronger economy based on a credible plan, but people also want a fairer society based on modern public services. To all those people left cold by these exchanges, to all those asking themselves is there another way, I say there is a better way.”

Mr Osborne had agreed to Mr Alexander setting out his “alternative Budget” following the Chancellor’s statement on Wednesday which detailed the Conservatives’ direction of travel if they secured an outright victory at the general election.

Senior Tories shunned his appearance in the Commons and refused to comment on his party’s tax and spending plans. But Adam Afriyie, one of the few Conservative MPs in the chamber, said he was “stunned” by the episode.

He said: “The Liberal Democrats have betrayed their voters, and their voters know it. Their own candidates are now pretending to be independents and today’s display is an absolute betrayal of the role they have played in government.”

Matthew Offord, another Tory MP, said: “He has pulled off the neat trick of not only being a member of the Government but showing himself able to be part of the opposition.”

Labour angrily accused the Lib Dem minister of abusing his government office to deliver a party political statement. The shadow Treasury minister, Chris Leslie, denounced the proceedings as a “farce” and said:  “I thought statements in the House of Commons were supposed to be from ministers speaking collectively on behalf of the Government. But he has totally abused that privilege, assembling MPs on a false premise.”

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