The Conservative Party in Blackpool: Fuel VAT 'will cost the party dear in next elections': A party stalwart tells Chris Blackhurst what he would have liked to say to the Chancellor

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JACK RICHARDSON left Blackpool a disappointed and worried man yesterday. Disappointed, because he did not get the chance to voice his opposition to VAT on fuel in the morning's economy debate; worried, because he believes that the measure will cost the Tories dear in the next round of local and European elections.

Mr Richardson, a county and local councillor from Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, went to the conference determined to speak. He filled in a slip saying he would talk about 'the regressive tax and the electoral damage it will cause' and handed it to the stewards. But he was not called to speak.

Instead, he was forced to watch a debate that he said was 'extremely well stage managed to the point where criticism of the VAT proposal wasn't highlighted'. He did, though, have his speech ready. If called, he would have said that nobody in the hall disagreed with the Government's 'broad strategy to bring the UK out of recession'. Next, though, would have come the bit the party managers would rather nobody heard: 'I had the fortune - I didn't say 'good' - to canvass for the county council elections in May and a by-election in August and . . . there was a consistent and clear message coming from lifelong Conservatives. And it is a message we ignore at our peril. They told us: 'I won't be voting Conservative while the Government persists with the proposal to impose VAT on fuel'.'

Benefits for people on low incomes and pensions are not enough. 'Those just above the poverty line, who do not qualify for benefits, will still suffer, and these include millions of elderly people, natural Conservative supporters.'

VAT on fuel, he would have said, 'is proving to be an electoral disaster - far worse than the community charge . . . Chancellor, I ask you to think again.'

After that, Mr Richardson would have sat down to resounding applause or stony silence. He was not given the chance to discover which.