Political Reaction: PM Brown would be a failure, says Osborne

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Indy Politics

George Osborne called Gordon Brown "the clunking fist" yesterday, as he accused the Chancellor of being responsible for Labour's failings in power.

Mr Osborne used the pre-Budget report to criticise the "Blair-Brown years" and claim that Mr Brown as Prime Minister would not provide the change the country was seeking.

He turned Tony Blair's claim that Mr Brown would knock out Tory leader David Cameron against the Chancellor, declaring: "The hospital cuts are his cuts; the failing schools are his failures; the pensions that were destroyed were destroyed by him.

"The truth is: Labour can only be new once. If the public wants change, then they are going to have to vote for it."

The Liberal Democrats also attacked Mr Brown, for being a "passive spectator" as personal debt levels "soared".

But Mr Brown launched a bullish defence of his record, insisting that Britain had enjoyed its longest period of economic growth, and historically low interest rates.

The Shadow Chancellor told MPs: "The Chancellor is trying to persuade the public that he is the change they are crying out for. He lets it be known with nods and winks that he will end the spin and the eye-catching initiatives of the Blair years.

"But they were his years too - the Blair-Brown years. The years of the clunking fist."

Mr Osborne said that Mr Brown had presided over "the largest rise in unemployment in the developed world".

He said: "This is a man who is so obsessed about securing his next job that he has forgotten about the 300,000 people who have just lost their jobs.

"What this country needed was a report that prepares our economy for a future that is more competitive, more flexible, and more global than before, but that is not what we got today.

"With this pre-Budget report, like the nine before it, Britain is moving further from the direction we need to go."

The Shadow Chancellor also criticised the lack of mention about the NHS in Mr Brown's speech. He said: "How could he possibly have stood here today and had the nerve to speak for 40 minutes without addressing the crisis in our NHS?"

But Mr Brown said Mr Osborne had repeatedly praised Labour's economic record. He told MPs: "Why doesn't he say to his backbenchers what he says when he goes into the City, when he talks of Labour's macroeconomic success, Labour's ability to manage the economy, Labour the party of economic competence. He now promises today he wants to cut taxes. Then he says borrowing is too high and he wants to cut borrowing."

Referring to David Cameron's role as an advisor to former Tory Chancellor, Norman Lamont, Mr Brown added: "When will he wake up to the fact that to cut taxes, raise spending and to cut borrowing, and then to have a fiscal rule that requires him to cut £28bn from spending, is exactly the position the Rt Hon gentleman was in when he was economic advisor to Lord Lamont.

"It is exactly that that led to the tragedy of 1992 when we ended up with 22 tax rises, hundreds of billions of borrowing, 15 per cent interest rates, mortgage repossessions and negative equity. We are not ever returning to that." Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman said the Chancellor was a "passive spectator" as personal debt rose to levels similar to the last Tory government.

He said: "Two million people today have extreme debt, there are one in six, according to the Bank of England, who have severe debt problems. The level of debt service in relation to income is very close to what it was when the last Tory boom actually burst.

"Who is responsible for this? Is it the people who borrow? The lenders? Has the Bank of England not done enough? And is it adequate just for the Chancellor to be a passive spectator?"

Mr Brown replied: "Of course there are individuals who have difficult problems and they need to be dealt with and we do need proper protection for them as well as proper advice. But we mustn't compare it to the situation in the 1990s where interest rates were 15 per cent and people were facing mortgage repossessions."

Mr Cable also questioned the extent of Mr Brown's green measures. He said: "The Stern Commission Report recommended that there needed to be tough preventive action amounting to something in the order of one per cent of GDP.

"The tax changes announced today amount to one-tenth of one per cent of GDP and I wonder where the other nine-tenths are going to come from.

"The Chancellor's environmental credentials are not helped by the publishing of the Barker report, which is a property developer's charter, and the Eddington report, which has an unashamed plea for the expansion of airports."

Kenneth Clarke, the former Conservative chancellor, said Mr Brown was benefiting from his legacy of economic stability.

He told MPs: "While it is true that he has not destroyed the record of growth, stability and low inflation he inherited in 1997, he has only extended our record-breaking period of growth and stability on a sea of mounting debt.

"If his successor believes the extravagantly optimistic descriptions of public finances the Chancellor has given, he will make serious policy errors."

Stuart Hosie, speaking for the Scottish National Party, said Scotland had suffered a 30 per cent "growth gap" compared to the rest of Britain, accusing the Chancellor of ignoring a "full blown manufacturing recession" in Scotland.

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