Redwood's tax cuts pledge sparks row over 'bouncing Tory cheques'

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A row over tax and spending broke out last night after John Redwood claimed his party's £4bn tax cuts, promised by leader Michael Howard, were merely a "down payment" and more would follow.

A row over tax and spending broke out last night after John Redwood claimed his party's £4bn tax cuts, promised by leader Michael Howard, were merely a "down payment" and more would follow.

Mr Redwood, the shadow deregulation minister and a prominent right-winger, said the cuts to be announced in the first Tory Budget after the election were just the beginning - he expected further reductions over the course of the Parliament.

In an interview on Channel 4's Morgan & Platell programme, Mr Redwood claimed that the Conservatives were effectively offering voters a tax package worth a total of £12bn more than Labour's, because Chancellor Gordon Brown would have to raise taxes after the election to fill an £8bn hole in Treasury coffers.

But he said that taxpayers could probably expect more largesse from a Tory government: "I'm very happy to start with £12bn ... It will be more over the lifetime of the Parliament. It will be more if all goes well. That's just the down payment. That's just for the first Budget."

Mr Redwood, who was controversially brought back to the Shadow Cabinet last year by Mr Howard, said that extra cuts in spending and taxation could be achieved through "better management in the public sector and by growth in the economy".

Labour seized on the comments as evidence that the Tories were squeezing spending on vital public services to deliver tax cuts for the better off.

Mr Brown is expected to tell Labour's Scottish conference in Dundee today: "Nobody believes anything the Tories say on tax, given their sums don't add up. The only cut to which they are committed is a massive £35bn cut in spending on vital public services."

The Liberal Democrats were similarly dismissive. Vincent Cable, the Liberal Democrats' treasury spokesman, said: "This is a desperate attempt to buy votes with cheques that will bounce."

Mr Redwood's remarks alarmed Conservative strategists, because the £4bn package was carefully presented as "modest" in an attempt to appeal to the political centre ground.

The Conservatives have offered older pensioners a 50 per cent cut in council tax worth a total of £1.3bn but have yet to announce how they would spend the remainder of the pot that they have set aside for tax cuts.

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