Public scepticism is expected for policies

Oliver Letwin was as candid as ever when he identified the immediate political problems posed by the spending overhaul he outlined yesterday.

At a press conference before his speech, he accepted that those on the right would regard his plans as "a mouse" (i.e too small), while the Labour Party would condemn them as "slash and burn".

He also conceded that by failing to give detailed figures for each area of spending, the public would be justified in viewing them with "considerable scepticism".

Mr Letwin has certainly tried his best to head off the worst of the charges that could be thrown at a Tory opposition - that it would decimate spending on the NHS and schools.

A promise to increase funds by 9 per cent in cash terms for the first two years of the next parliament will give Michael Howard's candidates valuable cover against such criticism.

Mr Letwin repeated his pledge to increase police numbers by 5,000 a year, despite the planned freeze to the Home Office budget. Pensions plans would also remain protected.

But the real-terms cuts for nearly every other Whitehall budget over the first two years of a Tory administration will give Labour and the Liberal Democrats more than enough ammunition in the run up to the next election.

In many ways the most interesting aspect of Mr Letwin's speech yesterday was what he did not talk about. The biggest omission was the exact nature of any tax cuts. We will have to wait until the end of the year to find out about these; many Tory MPs are hoping it will be worth the wait.

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