Opposition parties rage at 'pickpocketing' Chancellor

It is not often that the Leader of the Opposition applauds a government's Budget as "genius". Yet as he sat across from Alistair Darling and listened to the Chancellor deliver his main sweetener, stamp duty relief for first-time buyers, it was the word an exasperated David Cameron chose to describe the measure. The mocking praise, delivered as he threw his hands up in incredulity, barely masked his frustration at the Government's decision to cherrypick a policy he said his party had backed three years ago.

The Tory leader said that the Government should be ashamed of its management of the economy, adding that it had only brought "debt, waste and tax" in return for overseeing a ballooning deficit that will see Britain borrow £167bn this year. "Like every Labour government before them, they have run out of money and have left it to the next Conservative government to clean up the mess," he said. "It's time to sack the manager."

The captain of the Titanic, Richard Nixon, and the disgraced newspaper proprietor Robert Maxwell were all invoked by Mr Cameron to illustrate his assessment of the trustworthiness of Gordon Brown's government following the Budget, which he attacked for stealing Tory policies and delivering more questionable growth figures. He added that the "biggest risk to the recovery is five more years of this Prime Minister".

Tory figures were fuming that what Mr Cameron described as "Labour's big idea", raising the stamp duty threshold for first-time buyers to £250,000, had been stolen from them. "Where on earth did they get that one from," Mr Cameron asked the Chancellor. "He came in as Chancellor copying our inheritance tax cut, he leaves as Chancellor copying our stamp duty cut."

He also said two other policies, the steep increase in duty on cider and the funding of further university places, had been pickpocketed from Tory plans. The net result was that the "only new ideas in British politics" were coming from his party, he said. "The Chancellor spoke for an hour but he could have done it all in a sentence – Labour have made a complete mess of the British economy and they are doing nothing to clean it up.

"They told us they would be prudent – this Chancellor has just said that they will be borrowing £734bn over the next six years, giving us a national debt of £1.3 trillion," he said. "Next year they are going to be spending more on debt interest than they are going to be on educating our children."

Members of the Tory leadership were soon arguing that the lack of imagination in the "empty Budget" had given them the perfect platform on which to fight the election. They also said the Treasury would have to find a further £25bn in cuts to meet its own targets of bringing spending under control. "This allows us during the campaign to be the people with the new ideas, because there's absolutely nothing in this Budget," said a member of Mr Cameron's inner circle. "It's the day that Gordon Brown's premiership was found out – a pre-election Budget with nothing in it.

"The only noticeable new policies were ones directly lifted from the Conservative Party – alcohol changes, university places and stamp duty – all of which were attacked by Labour pretty heavily when we announced them. If this campaign is about change, energy and leadership, then this Budget gives us a very good opportunity to point out that you're going to get nothing from the Government and it will be more of the same."

However, a Tory government would not reverse the increase in stamp duty for those buying homes worth more than £1m by 5 per cent, to pay for helping first-time buyers. "The main thing we're trying to avoid is the national insurance tax increase introduced by this Government," he said. "We're more concerned about the taxes on the many, not the few."

Despite its distinctly low-key presentation, it was not just the Tories that were complaining that they felt robbed after the Budget. The Liberal Democrats also complained about "blatantly political" measures in the document that were simply designed to neutralise its own eye-catching policies. They saw the move to increase stamp duty on the rich is an attempt to head off the "mansion tax" proposed by Vince Cable, paid by those owning homes with more than £2m. The policy had been proving popular in Labour constituencies on the Liberal Democrats' hit list.

"We know that the mansion tax idea has been playing well. They know that, too," said a senior party source. "What they have proposed is trying to grab the headlines, but will actually be very easy to avoid." The party also felt that a new £2bn infrastructure investment bank, designed to foster future energy and low carbon projects, had been "cut and pasted" from a Liberal Democrat idea. "I admire the barefaced cheek of it," said the source.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said Mr Darling's statement amounted to a "given up Budget" that was symptomatic of an administration in terminal decline. "This isn't the preface to a new government but a footnote to 13 years of failure," he said. "We need real change. We needed a Budget that gave us honesty on spending and fairness on taxation. We got neither."

He added that it had again failed to spell out how savings would be made to plug Britain's deficit. "This Budget was a Budget in denial about the scale of change needed – about as honest as the CV of Stephen Byers," he said. "It's built on growth figures that are unlikely to materialise. It's built on false comfort from a small drop in borrowing that doesn't affect the structural deficit." He also aimed his fire at the Tories, attacking them for having "barely a fig leaf of detail" in their plans to cut spending.

Despite what will be seen as a highly political Budget, senior Labour figures still warned that the Government should be more candid about the cuts in spending that would be needed to guarantee Britain's creditworthiness. John McFall, Labour chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, said that "tackling the deficit is going to have to happen and, perhaps more importantly, it has to be seen to be happening".

Did you know?

The scarlet box held aloft by Kenneth Clarke on Budget Day in 1996 was the same one used by Gladstone in 1860.

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Science Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Science Teacher - South Es...

NQT Secondary Teachers

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education is actively r...

A Level Chemistry Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: A Level Chemistry Teacher - Humb...

RE Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Teacher of Religious Education ...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering