Voters trust the Tories to make spending cuts

Confusion over spending review to pay for public service reforms
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The Conservative Party is trusted by more people than Labour to make the public spending cuts widely expected after the general election, according to a ComRes survey for The Independent.

The findings are a huge setback for Gordon Brown, who tried to relaunch his premiership yesterday by unveiling new policies on public services, jobs and housing in an attempt to "move on" from the scandal over MPs' expenses.

As the need for spending curbs moved to the top of the political agenda, ComRes asked people which party they trusted most to decide where public spending cuts should be made: 31 per cent said the Tories, 21 per cent Labour and 14 per cent the Liberal Democrats. Some 16 per cent trusted no party, 10 per cent said they didn't know and 7 per cent named other parties.

Only 62 per cent of people who regard themselves as natural Labour supporters said they trusted the party most to make the right spending cuts. Among Tory "identifiers", the figure was 81 per cent.

The findings suggest that Mr Brown may struggle to repeat the success Labour enjoyed at the last two elections by attacking "Tory cuts". However, Labour will argue that its "trust rating" has been dragged down by its poor overall standing with the voters.

There are some crumbs of comfort for Labour in the poll. One in four people trusted no party or replied "don't know", suggesting that David Cameron has not yet reassured many voters about his party's intentions. Labour was trusted more among the bottom DE social group to make the right cuts and was not far behind the Tories among the key C2 group.

According to ComRes, the Tory lead has fallen from 16 points last month to 11 points. It put the Tories on 36 per cent (down two points on last month), Labour on 25 per cent (up three points), the Liberal Democrats on 19 per cent (down one point) and other parties on 20 per cent (no change). These figures would give Mr Cameron a majority of just 10 at a general election – another sign that he has not yet "sealed the deal" with the voters.

Mr Brown hopes the launch of yesterday's document, Building Britain's Future, will finally spell out his "vision" to the voters – as he promised to do when he decided against calling a general election in 2007. He also wants to use the policy proposals to launch a more effective attack on the Tories over their firm commitment to cut public spending.

But his offensive was undermined by confusion over whether the Government would delay its next review of spending by all departments until after the election.

Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, jumped the gun by predicting that a comprehensive spending review would be delayed. He said: "I believe the Chancellor has made that judgement. We are not in a position to forecast what growth will be and the performance of the economy will be in 2011." Asked if that meant the exercise would take place after the election, he replied: "Of course, inevitably it would."

Mr Brown is moving towards that position. He believes that uncertainty over the economy provides compelling grounds to postpone the review. But the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, is not yet convinced and the Treasury insisted yesterday that no decision on the review had yet been taken. It may be left open for some months.

The doubts about whether Labour would spell out its spending plans before the election allowed Mr Cameron to attack yesterday's raft of measures as "a package without a price tag." He told MPs: "The Prime Minister is living in a dream world, in which investment is going up, spending is going up – when is someone going to tell him he has run out of money?"

Earlier Mr Cameron launched a scathing attack on Mr Brown, claiming his reluctance to carry out a spending review was part of a "thread of dishonesty" running through the Government and came close to calling the Prime Minister a liar.

The Tory leader told a press conference that the apparent postponement of the review was an attempt to "cover up the truth about Labour's cuts". He issued a stark warning the spending cuts needed could provoke "riots on the streets" unless politicians were honest about the need for them in advance.

The Government's prospectus included the draft Queen's Speech for the final parliamentary session before the election, which must be held by June next year. But with time running out, the document was widely seen as a first draft of Labour's election manifesto. There was no mention of the Government's plans to part-privatise the Royal Mail, which now looks certain to be kicked into the long grass in the face of a Labour backbench rebellion and fears it would raise little money in the recession.

There was a pledge to treble the housing budget to £2.1bn to allow councils and housing associations to build 110,000 new affordable homes in England over next two years, creating 45,000 jobs in construction.

However, there is no overall increase in government spending. The money will be found from underspending in the health, education, transport and Home Office budgets and switching cash within the Department of Communities and Local Government, which is responsible for housing. People under 25 unemployed for a year will be guaranteed the offer of a job or training. In return they will face having their benefits cut or taken away if they refuse those offers.

Public service targets will be converted into statutory rights for consumers. This means no-one will have to wait longer than 18 weeks between GP referral and hospital treatment, cancer patients in England will be guaranteed a consultation with a specialist within two weeks and there will be a guaranteed free health check for all over-40s.

Mr Brown told the Commons: "There is a real choice for our country: creating jobs or doing nothing. Driving forward growth or letting the recession take its course. We will not walk away from the British people in difficult times."

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, dismissed the programme as "a hotch potch of unrelated Whitehall schemes" with no unifying vision from a prime minister who was "running out of steam".



ComRes telephoned 1,007 GB adults between 26 and 28 June 2009. Data were weighted by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

Brown's new vision: At a glance

*JOBS

Under-25s who have been on the dole for a year will be offered a job, training or work experience. If they refuse, they could have their benefits taken away. The TUC described the proposal as a "major cause for concern". A £1bn fund will create 150,000 jobs – 100,000 for young people and 50,000 in unemployment black spots.

Verdict: Bold move whose impact could be masked by general surge in dole queues.

*HEALTH

Patients to be given "enforceable rights", entitling them to hospital treatment within 18 weeks, access to a cancer specialist within a fortnight and free health checks for the over-40s.

Verdict: Although check-ups for the over-40s and the pledge on cancer treatment have already been announced, the Government is trying to produce a change of culture, with Whitehall targets for NHS professionals replaced with rights for patients.



*SCHOOLS

Parents will be guaranteed "individually tailored education" for their children, including one-to-one tuition for secondary school pupils who need it. There will be a "radical" extension of trust, academy and federation schools, with the best head teachers taking responsibility for more than one school.

Verdict: Gordon Brown wants to demonstrate his reforming zeal. Again, the aim is to place more power in consumers' hands.

*LORDS

Under new legislation before the election, the 92 remaining hereditary peers will not be replaced when they die. Labour's election manifesto will pledge to reduce the size of the Lords and make it 100 or 80 per cent elected. New sanctions on corrupt peers will be introduced.

Verdict: Popular moves within the party – and unfinished business. Next year marks the 100th anniversary of Labour demanding in its manifesto: "The Lords must go."



*TRANSPORT

Electrification of the railways will be increased by about one third. A feasibility study for a new north-south high speed rail will be published "in the coming year". Incentives will be produced to increase numbers of low carbon buses.

Verdict: The electrification initiative marks a major reverse of stance: little rail electrification has taken place since the early 1990s. But the Department of Transport will see its overall budget cut.



*CRIME

Residents will get a new "entitlement" to hold police to account in monthly meetings. They will be given a say on crime prevention measures, CCTV use and "community payback" by local offenders. A Crime and Private Security Bill will reduce paperwork and get officers back on the beat.

Verdict: Familiar themes from an administration that repeatedly says it wants to make police more accountable and cut red tape.

Nigel Morris

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