Labour's pledge on tax opens rift with Lib Dems

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Deep divisions yesterday opened up between Labour and the Liberal Democrats over tax and spending on the health service after Tony Blair ruled out higher personal taxes to pay for more public expenditure.

Accusing the Labour leader of dishonesty, Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on health, said Labour's refusal to say they would increase taxes after the election was "not credible". And he added: "I don't think the voters would allow them to get away with it. It is dishonest because if you promise no tax increases and then you have to, then you are in the same position as the Tories who promised low taxes but didn't deliver them."

Mr Hughes said the Liberal Democrats would be prepared to put up taxes to pay for their proposed reforms of the NHS. And he gave a firm commitment that his party would match the Tories' pledge to raise spending on the NHS in real terms every year - answering one of the eight key questions raised by The Independent, which has been ducked by Labour.

He said: "People would be willing to see more of their taxes spent on the health service if it was necessary to sustain the NHS." And he made it clear he wanted to play a role in a Labour government in order to make it more radical. "We want to be in government and our job, we think, is more than ever important because the Labour Party are so weak in some areas, particularly in commitment in the financial area."

Mr Hughes's criticism was seized on by the Tory party chairman, Brian Mawhinney, who said it showed that a Lib-Lab alliance would produce "double danger". Mr Blair's pledge not to put up personal taxes was "yet more evidence that New Labour will say virtually anything to try to win the next election".