Tory deputy chairman sacked for disclosing spending cuts

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Indy Politics

The Conservative deputy chairman was sacked by Michael Howard last night after disclosing that the Tories are secretly planning further cuts to public services after the general election.

The Conservative deputy chairman was sacked by Michael Howard last night after disclosing that the Tories are secretly planning further cuts to public services after the general election.

Howard Flight was forced to resign after hinting that the Tories would make cuts over and above the £35bn identified by the James review into public spending. The disclosure is highly embarrassing to the Conservatives, who for months have been trying to reassure the public that they are not planning to slash health, education or transport budgets.

Alan Milburn, Labour's election co-ordinator, said Mr Flight had been sacked "for revealing the Tory party's views to the public''. He added: "The Tory's secret plan for devastating cuts to frontline public services is now out in the open. He has revealed in private what the Tories dare not admit in public, that they are secretly planning cuts over and above the £35bn they have already confirmed.''

Mr Flight, the Tory "special envoy to the City", had told a meeting of the Thatcherite Conservative Way Forward group that planned spending cuts were being hidden because "whatever the fine principles, you have to win an election first", hinting more cuts to public spending would be possible when the Tories were in power.

He said: "The potential for getting better taxpayer value is a good bit greater than the James' findings [which have been] sieved for what is politically acceptable and what is not going to lose the main argument''.

He added: "Everyone on our side of the fence believes passionately that it will be a continuing agenda." After an election "you can actually get on with what needs to be done''.

Mr Flight set up the James Review into public spending. It identified £35bn of public spending cuts from Government "waste".

Mr Howard tried last night to limit the damage to his election campaign by removing Mr Flight from office immediately, but the gaffe will be extremely damaging to the Conservatives and is certain to be used repeatedly by Labour and the Liberal Democrats as evidence of a hidden agenda.

Mr Flight's remarks, made behind closed doors, mirror Oliver Letwin's outburst during the 2001 election where he revealed to the Financial Times that the Tories were planning £20bn in cuts to public services, far more than they had officially announced.

In the same address Mr Flight also called the Conservative proposal for council tax rebates for pensioners "nakedly political''. But he revealed the Tories might unveil further vote-winning initiatives, including raising the threshold for income tax and inheritance tax "so that middle England comes out of the equation for the time being''.

Mr Flight last night issued an apology to the Conservative leadership. He said: "I regret my choice of words which do not accurately reflect the process of the James committee, with which I have been closely involved and totally support.''

The Conservatives issued a statement making clear Mr Flight's comments "did not represent the policy of the Conservative Party''.

Paul Boateng, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said that Mr Flight had "let the cat out of the bag by revealing the Tory agenda for substantial cuts to public spending.''

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