Michael Howard came under renewed pressure yesterday on Tory tax and spending plans after Gordon Brown claimed they were "based on a lie".
Labour seized on a magazine article by Nick Herbert, selected this week as Conservative candidate for Arundel and South Downs in place of Howard Flight. Mr Flight was sacked for suggesting that the party had a secret agenda to cut spending.
Mr Herbert wrote: "The whisper is that there is a top-secret, extremely clever strategy afoot: go along with spending rises now, but return to a tax cutting agenda when - if - the party is re-elected. So the repositioning of the Tories is to be based on a lie, a fact that is unlikely to escape the public."
He also recently called for a single, flat rate of tax funded by restraining public spending.
The Tory leader insisted that Mr Herbert's comments had been taken out of context, but made clear he would crack down on candidates who suggested he was plotting post-election spending cuts.
Mr Howard is keen to draw a line under the Flight controversy so that it does not overshadow next week's planned announcement of the Tories' tax plans. The party aims to cut the tax burden by £4bn a year and has already said £1.3bn will be set aside for cutting council tax bills, leaving £2.7bn for other reductions.
Challenged on Mr Herbert's remarks, Mr Howard said people were entitled to their views, but added: "What they are not entitled to do is to suggest that I as leader of the party or the Conservative party as a whole has a hidden agenda, because we do not.
"With the Conservatives, what you see is what you get. What we promise is what we deliver. We are not saying one thing to win an election with the intention of doing another thing afterwards."
Mr Howard continued: "What Nick Herbert said in an article two years ago was a warning to the party, based on a rumour, a whisper as he described it, a warning for the party not to do this sort of thing. He was quite right. He said it would be quite wrong if the Conservative Party said one thing and did another.
"We were never intending to do that, we have never done that, and what Nick Herbert has said is exactly what we are doing.
"We are saying what we do, what we mean is what we say, and what we say is what you get. That is what Nick Herbert has said we should do, and that is what we are doing."
On the party's proposed spending plans, Mr Howard insisted: "We only have one plan, it is costed in great deal, it is out there for you all to see."
Mr Herbert insisted he was "fully supportive" of Tory tax and spending plans. He said: "I continue to believe that Michael Howard's policy of offering tax cuts ... is exactly the right one. The Conservative Party is the only party to have done so."
Mr Brown told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "What has become clear in the last day of this campaign, particularly with the choice of Mr Herbert as the approved candidate in Arundel, is that there is a huge dividing line on economic policy. The Conservatives have an economic plan, as Mr Herbert himself said - repeating Mr Flight - it is top secret, it is an extremely clever strategy, it is to go along with spending rises now, the repositioning of the Tories, he said, is based on a lie."
Mr Brown added: "There is no doubt that he thinks there is a secret agenda, and one that would cut public spending very massively."