Voters prefer to put money into public services

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Most people, including Tory supporters, reject Michael Howard's plans to cut taxes by £4bn, an NOP poll for The Independent shows. In a big setback for Mr Howard, by a margin of more than 2-1, people prefer Labour's policy of spending the money on key public services. Among people intending to vote Tory on 5 May, 58 per cent prefer spending on services and only 30 per cent favour a £4bn tax cut.

Most people, including Tory supporters, reject Michael Howard's plans to cut taxes by £4bn, an NOP poll for The Independent shows. In a big setback for Mr Howard, by a margin of more than 2-1, people prefer Labour's policy of spending the money on key public services. Among people intending to vote Tory on 5 May, 58 per cent prefer spending on services and only 30 per cent favour a £4bn tax cut.

The details of the flagship tax-cutting pledge were omitted from the Tory manifesto launched yesterday in an attempt to achieve maximum impact after Labour publishes its manifesto tomorrow.

But the poll suggests that the Tory pledge will not attract many among Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters. Both groups reject it by a huge margin of 76 per cent to 18 per cent.

There is good news in the poll for the Liberal Democrats. Their policy to raise the top rate of income tax from 40p to 50p in the pound on earnings above £100,000 a year is backed by 73 per cent of voters and opposed by only 22 per cent. The plan is endorsed by a majority of Labour and Tory supporters and those people in the top AB socio-economic group, who would be most likely to pay.

This finding will be seized on by Labour figures who want Tony Blair to leave open the option of a higher top rate. But the Prime Minister fears that such a move would not be popular because it would send a wider signal that Labour would raise taxes.

Labour found itself under growing pressure yesterday over the prospect that taxes would have to rise if the party retains power to fill a £10bn "black hole" in the Government's finances estimated by independent forecasters.

When Mr Blair and Gordon Brown claimed the Tories offered a "fraudulent prospectus" because they had a £15.7bn gap in their spending plans, they were forced on to the defensive over how Labour would fund its own programme.

Mr Brown declined to give a guarantee that taxes would not increase during the next parliament, saying it would be a mistake to try to second-guess all the possible economic scenarios.

Asked whether he could issue a pledge of "Read my lips, no new taxes", the Chancellor replied: "Nobody is going to make the error, and I hope the Conservative Party will not make the error that politicians such as John Major made in 1992, of trying to anticipate every possible circumstance." He insisted: "Every single item of expenditure is costed in our spending plans."

The Labour manifesto will rule out an increase in the basic or top rates of tax during the next parliament but will leave the door open to raising national insurance, as Labour did in 2002 to boost spending on the National Health Service.

Oliver Letwin, the shadow Chancellor, said: "As usual, Mr Brown is refusing to come clean about taxes. Almost every independent economic commentator says he will have to put up taxes to pay for his excessive spending if Labour wins the election. The only question is which taxes? His failure to give a straight answer highlights the choice at the next election: more waste and higher taxes under Labour, or value for money and lower taxes with Conservatives."

Ssenior Labour figures, led by Mr Blair and Mr Brown, will publish more material today suggesting that the Tories' sums do not add up, and they warn that a Howard government would put the economy "at risk".

Labour has set its sights on making today "demolition day" as it aims to demolish the Tory programme before "going positive" when it launches its own manifesto tomorrow. Launching Labour's economic manifesto, Mr Brown referred to the report into NHS spending by Sir Derek Wanless that recommended after the 2001 election a massive increase in health spending.

"What we promised at the election was that we would keep to the spending plans that we set down at the election," he said. "Then the Wanless report made a recommendation. It is totally unfair to suggest that we knew what the Wanless committee was going to recommend before it was reporting."

The Chancellor urged people to back Labour's "unprecedented" economic record rather than return to the "bad old days" of boom and bust under the Conservatives. He pledged to maintain an inflation target of 2 per cent and to stick to his "golden" fiscal rule of only borrowing to invest over the economic cycle.

Labour's document claimed its economic record since 1997 had "finally laid to rest the view that Labour could not be trusted with the economy". In the past eight years, the party had "pioneered a British way to economic stability". The Tories were now "the party of high interest rates, high inflation, mass unemployment and house repossessions". The document added: "Their tax and spend promises do not add up, and they would cut £35bn from public investment."

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