Tory leader attacks policy of 'vote now, pay later'

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Michael Howard said that Labour had committed to a wave of future tax rises as he condemned Gordon Brown for delivering a "vote now, pay later" Budget.

Michael Howard said that Labour had committed to a wave of future tax rises as he condemned Gordon Brown for delivering a "vote now, pay later" Budget.

The Conservative leader warned that the Chancellor had written his Budget for party political gain, and drove home the Tories' pre-election message about tax and spending, insisting that Mr Brown would have to fill a "black hole" in the public finances.

He declared: "The simple fact is that if Labour get in again, taxes go up again."

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, described the Budget as a "sticking plaster" which did nothing to address real concerns about fairness and council tax rates.

But Labour MPs gave the Chancellor an enthusiastic welcome, waving and cheering as he announced more money for pensioners and the NHS.

In a combative Commons performance, Mr Howard used his post-Budget speech to repeat the party's claim that Labour waste would cost the voters dear if the party wins a third term. He told MPs: "Labour's faltering campaign will not be helped by this vote now, pay later Budget.

"We can all see the sweeteners, but they hide the crippling tax rises for hard-working families that are inevitable if Labour wins. They hide the massive waste of taxpayers' money that defines this Government. They hide the huge burden of regulation that under this Government has increased, is increasing and will continue to increase.

"This Government and this Chancellor have run out of solutions to the problems Britain faces. Their only answer is to tax, to spend and to waste; to get people to vote now and pay later." He declared: "The question is not whether taxes would go up under Labour. The only question is, which taxes would go up? The dodgy Government that brought us the dodgy dossier is now publishing the dodgy Budget based on dodgy numbers."

He warned that Mr Brown faced a "chorus of disapproval from almost every independent economist and international organisation" about the state of the British economy.

Mr Kennedy attacked the Chancellor for failing to tackle the underlying inequalities in the country and declared that the Liberal Democrats were the "real alternative" to Labour. He said: "We are lucky in this country. Britain has the fourth largest economy in the world, so how can it be right in Britain today that the poorest 20 per cent pay more in tax, as a proportion of their income, than the richest 20 per cent?

"Over the past eight years the Chancellor has tinkered an awful lot, but he has failed to tackle fundamental unfairness in the system. This Budget is just more of the same."

He criticised the Government for failing to tackle concerns about the council tax, which the Liberal Democrats are pledged to replace with a local income tax, and said increases in pension credit hid the fact that Mr Brown had "done nothing to fundamentally fix pensioner poverty".

John McFall, Labour chairman of the Commons Treasury Select Committee, said the 40 per cent increase in income for the poorest pensioners since 1997 was "hugely welcome" and praised the system of means-tested pension credits. He said: "I want the Government to pursue this strategy of pension credit for a time. As the Turner Commission report said, this isn't the solution for the long term, it certainly is the solution for the short and medium term."

Denzil Davies, Labour MP for Llanelli, said that Mr Brown "is right to remind the House we have one of the best growth rates, one of the lowest inflation rates, one of the highest levels of employment in the whole of the western world and that is some achievement."

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