Howard: We are the party of low taxes, not Labour

Click to follow

Michael Howard sought to paper over any Shadow Cabinet splits on taxation and pledged a Tory Government would reduce tax rates and overhaul public services.

The Shadow Chancellor insisted: "We are the party of low taxes." He told the conference: "We can and we will reform public services. We will always be a lower tax government than Labour and we do plan to cut taxes. But, unlike Labour's, our plans will be carefully costed and, unlike Labour's, they will be clear for all to see."

But Mr Howard's caution in refusing to signal when detailed tax plans could be published put him at odds with Iain Duncan Smith, the party's leader, who wants a bold statement on tax in the spring.

David Davis, the shadow Deputy Prime Minister, has also said the party should not be afraid to cut taxes. Interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Howard said he "hoped" to be able to offer tax cuts and said the plans would be published "much closer" to the election.

He said: "We will certainly be a lower tax government than Labour ever would be, and we hope and plan to cut taxes. But we are not making specific promises on tax cuts until we get closer to the election, when we have been able to identify the savings we can make.

"We will bring our proposals forward before the election, so that people can see, alongside all our other proposals for improving public services, where we have identified the savings and where we can cut taxes."

In his conference speech, the Shadow Chancellor said: "Reforming and improving the public services is the only way to break Labour's vicious circle of ever higher taxes and ever failing services. It is the key to everything we want to achieve. It has got to be done and we'll do it."

He mounted a wide-ranging attack on the economic strategy of "this deceitful, dishonest and discredited Government", complaining that both people and businesses had been "hammered by higher taxes and too much of their money is being wasted".

Mr Howard said that under Labour there had been 60 tax rises - costing the typical family £568 a year - yet "still no delivery" on improving public services. The Government's central failure was that they had spent the money but not carried out the reform.

He said Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, had forecast borrowing of £30bn two years ago. Last year, the forecast rose to £72bn and this year to £118bn.

"Taken together, families and Government are now borrowing more than 15 per cent of the nation's income - the highest amount since records began. Yet this is the Chancellor who said 'you cannot build the New Jerusalem on a mountain of debt'."

On the single European currency, Mr Howard said that since the Swedish "no" vote, it was obvious that British membership before an election was a "dead duck" and ridiculed the Government's plans for roadshows to sell the euro.

Paul Boateng, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, countered that Mr Howard's speech showed the Tories remained committed to spending cuts and privatisation of the NHS.