The Conservatives declared victory in the battle for the support of Britain's businessmen after the number of companies backing their stance on national insurance rose to more than 500.
Some 415 small and medium-sized firms yesterday joined the 104 big companies who have endorsed the Tories' pledge to reverse most of the rise in national insurance contributions (NICs) due to take effect in April next year.
Although some of the messages of support were solicited by Conservative Campaign Headquarters and Tory-supporting businessmen, party officials said the vast majority had been sent in spontaneously.
The Tories claimed their backing undermined claims by the Business Secretary Lord Mandelson that the party had won plaudits only from big, metropolitan companies.
The 415 smaller firms, including flower shops, dry cleaners and small manufacturers, signed a letter saying that halting the NICs increase would "protect jobs and support the recovery". Backing the Tory plan to find the money needed through £6bn of government efficiency savings, they added: "In the last two years, businesses have cut costs without undermining the service they provide to their customers. It is time for the Government to do the same. As taxpayers we would welcome more efficiency in government. As businessmen and women we know that stopping the national insurance rise will protect jobs and support the recovery. Cutting government waste won't endanger the recovery – but putting up national insurance will."
Philip Hammond, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said: "Over 400 small and medium businesses have come out in support of our proposals to cut waste and stop Labour's job tax which would kill the recovery. Once again, Gordon Brown's war with British business puts him on the wrong side of working people. And Lord Mandelson's desperate dismissal of Britain's business leaders as 'metropolitan' chief executives is wide of the mark."
Labour hit back by trumpeting a letter signed by 58 economists warning that the £6bn of spending cuts the Tories need to fund their move on NICs could push the economy back into recession. They included Lord Layard, Lord Peston, Lord Skidelsky and Sir David Hendry. They said: "This is not the time for such a destabilising action. Only when the recovery is well under way, will it be safe to have extra cuts in government expenditure. The first step is to make sure growth returns and tax receipts recover. Rash action now could imperil not only jobs but also the prospects for reducing the deficit."
Highlights of the day
Trustworthy statistic of the day
Yesterday's Telegraph poll of 100 marginal seats made good reading for the Tories with a prediction that they are set to pick up 74 of them. But who is behind the polling firm Crosby/Textor which produced the figures? Step forward Lynton Crosby who ran the Conservatives' general election campaign in 2005, and his business partner Mark Textor who was a strategist for Boris Johnson's successful London Mayoral campaign.
Mistweet of the day
Conservative head honcho Eric Pickles was in such a hurry to tell voters where he buys his clothing that he tweeted: "my shits are from M&S". He later noted, "the R is always important in Shirts".
Tantrum of the day
Conservative hopeful and millionaire environmentalist Zac Goldsmith hasn't been elected yet but he's already threatening to resign. He told voters in Richmond that if David Cameron were to do a U-turn on promises to remove hospital parking charges and block a third runway at Heathrow he would immediately step down, prompting a by-election which would "allow people to penalise my party". Remember that.
Dancer of the day
Out campaigning on Blackpool's promenade, Lord Mandelson couldn't resist a quick two-step on the Tower Ballroom dancefloor. The veteran politician took the hand of Hannah Mackenzie, a 67-year-old spiritual healer, for two dances. Ms Mackenzie said she wasn't sure who she'd be voting for but purred: "He's nice to dance with because he's very light."
Gaffe of the day
Labour have been caught napping. Disability charity Scope pointed out yesterday that Labour hasn't got round to producing their manifesto in Braille, large font and audio form. Actor Richard Wilson – aka Victor Meldrew – has only just finished recording their manifesto whilst the Tories and Liberal Democrats have their alternative formats sewn up.
Campaign of the day
Following the success of a Facebook campaign which got rock band Rage Against the Machine to a Christmas No1, Liberal Democrats are hoping to get their party to Number 10 with a campaign to "rage against two-party politics". The group was set up a fortnight ago with the blessing of the man behind the original Rage campaign, and has more than 27,000 members. Nine million more and Nick Clegg could be PM.
Non-election headline of the day
"Nantwich man faces flight disruption after Icelandic volcano erupts."
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