Tax pledge fails to woo voters

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Indy Politics
KENNETH CLARKE yesterday offered the voters in the Dudley West constituency the prospect of more tax cuts before the general election. But it will not be enough to prevent a shattering by-election defeat today for the Government.

The Chancellor reaffirmed the Budget commitment to extend the 20p in the pound tax rate to one in five of all taxpayers next year with more tax cuts "as soon as it is in the interests of the economy to do so''.

But the Tory candidate, Graham Postles, has found the voters sceptical of the Government's tax-cutting promises after the debacle over VAT on fuel.

The signs from Dudley West, where Labour needs a 4.1 per cent swing for victory, are that the Government's tax and excise duty increases of more than £3bn from April next year have created a cynical electorate which will question tax cuts in the future.

A Tory defeat will intensify the pressure on John Major by reducing his government's strength at Westminster, where the loss of the Tory whip for nine rebels has robbed the Government of its 14-seat majority.

The Tory camp appeared to accept the inevitability of defeat yesterday as the two main parties went through the final stages of the campaign. Jeremy Hanley, the party chairman, said the Tory candidate deserved to win, but stopped short of making any promises. The bookmakers stopped taking bets on a Labour victory some weeks ago.

The Labour Party finished its confident campaign by fielding Lord Attenborough, the leading Labour "luvvie'' and life peer, who stars as Father Christmas in Miracle on 34th Street.

He arrived in the West Midlands to give Labour's unstoppable bandwagon a push with his green Rolls-Royce.

Stepping from his limousine, Lord Attenborough denied the word "luvvie'' was in his script to win over disillusioned Tory voters. "I've never called anyone luvvie. I will call you darling though,'' he told reporters.

The Tories ended their campaign as they started, desperately trying to concentrate on local issues to keep the voters' minds off the turmoil in the Tory party at Westminster.

The Chancellor failed to visit the constituency to support the Tory candidate.

The voters, who may have wanted to tackle Kenneth Clarke about raising the price of beer and cigarettes to compensate for the defeat on VAT on fuel, yesterday had to settle for an interview in the Wolverhampton Express and Star.

Mr Clarke made no apology for once dismissing speeches made by Cabinet ministers "on a wet night in Dudley''. The Chancellor said: "It is frankly silly for people in the opposition parties to pretend that they regard off-the-cuff comments which were not intended to be official party policy and which were not contained in the manifesto as binding promises.'' Low rates of tax were good for the British economy and wealth creation, he said, adding that since 1979, the Conservatives had lowered income tax rates so that people could keep most of every extra pound they earned.