Local Elections: Council focus on homes policy

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Indy Politics
DEFIANT City of Westminster Tories pledged in their council elections manifesto yesterday to bring in a policy akin to the suspended 'homes for votes' scheme criticised as unlawful by the district auditor in January.

To cheers from Tory election candidates attending the document's Conservative Central Office launch, Miles Young, the council leader, said the message on the doorstep would be that the original 'highly popular' designated sales policy had not been proved to be illegal.

The four-year inquiry by John Magill, the auditor, provisionally recommended that Dame Shirley Porter, the former council leader, and nine others should be surcharged to meet the pounds 21m cost of selling homes at a discount to maximise Tory votes.

But Andrew Collins QC, has convinced the Tories that they can pursue what Mr Young described as a 'balanced' policy covering different types of tenure.

Michael Portillo, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and campaign co-ordinator for London, insisted: 'It really is intolerable for people to cast aspersions . . . when all that has happened is that a report has been produced to which a defence can be mounted.'

Labour hopes of making inroads into the Tory stronghold are not high. Jack Straw, environment spokesman, told a news conference: 'There has been pounds 21m of political gerrymandering.'

There were Tory claims of a Labour 'own goal' yesterday after Mr Straw released 1994-95 council tax figures based on the central Band D. The figures show average bills in Tory councils rising by 2.1 per cent this year, compared with a 1.2 per cent increase under Labour. But in cash terms they show an average Band D bill under Labour of pounds 625 compared with the Tories' pounds 531.

Labour said if the average of bills paid by all households before rebates was taken, its figure was pounds 453, compared with the Tories' pounds 493.

Elsewhere, council election campaigning took on a distinctly lower tone. Gerry Malone, a deputy Tory party chairman, produced a critical resume of Labour councillors' activities on Monklands District Council in the Scottish parliamentary constituency of John Smith, the Labour leader.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats launched a collection of attacks by Conservatives on the Prime Minister.

(Photograph omitted)