Letwin lets it slip: 'I want huge public spending cuts'

Oliver Letwin, the second most important politician in the Conservative Party, has been secretly taped saying that he would like to cut public spending by so much that it would be "irrational" to reveal his true intentions to voters at a general election.

Talking privately to a group of economists, Mr Letwin suggested that the Conservative promise to cut public spending by around £23bn a year was only for starters. If they won a second term, the Tories would make further cuts, taking up to £135bn out of the government budget.

His comments will add to his reputation as a bold thinker who is too honest for his own good. During the 2001 general election, minders had to hide him in the Dorset countryside, away from the media, after he had blurted out his real beliefs on public spending to a journalist from the Financial Times.

Speaking at a meeting at the Institute of Economic Affairs last week, Mr Letwin implied that his own preference would be to cut government spending to "shall we say 35 or 30 per cent of Gross Domestic Spending" - rather than the 40 per cent target that is current Conservative policy.

He also conceded that many people think the Tory Party ought to be bolder about tax cuts to differentiate itself more sharply from Labour at a general election.

But he warned: "If those were the terms in which the general election were to be couched, I am confident I could predict the result - which is that the nation would choose the higher path ... To take a course of action that has the opposite of one's desired effect is to me irrational."

Paul Boateng, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said: "[Mr Letwin's] secret, step-by-step plan to cut public services would go beyond the damaging cuts he has already announced and would devastate the police, armed forces, transport, local government, health and education."

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