The Tax Debate: Labour unlikely to give spending details: Smith expected to back Beckett tactic of setting out objectives without giving precise figures

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The Independent Online
LABOUR is unlikely to spell out the details of its tax and spending pledges before the next general election, it was made clear yesterday by Margaret Beckett, exposing tensions over the party's election strategy, writes Colin Brown.

Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, hinted that Labour would give more details in its election campaign, when he mounted Labour's attack on the combined tax increases which came into effect last night. He said that Kenneth Clarke's Budget would add pounds 10 a week to the tax bill of a working couple on pounds 15,600 a year.

He accused the Tories of breaking election pledges and said the country would not trust the Tories again on tax. 'Labour will build a new trust between the public and a Labour government on tax. Unlike the Tories we will tell the truth. We will consult. We will be accountable. We will link the taxes people pay to the benefits they receive. And unlike the Tories on VAT, the guiding light of our tax policy will be fairness to all,' Mr Brown said.

But Mrs Beckett, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, disclosed on BBC Radio that Labour was unlikely to give details of its own pledges. 'My own counsel would be we should seek to set objectives and say what we will aim towards as the money is there, rather than be too detailed,' she said.

Mrs Beckett, in charge of campaigning strategy, has the support of Jack Straw, another key member of the election strategy team. Labour sources confirmed that her views were likely to win the support of Walworth Road, and John Smith, the Labour leader.

Many Labour MPs will support Mrs Beckett. They have been urging the leadership not to repeat the mistake it made in the 1992 election by publishing a shadow election Budget which the Tories successfully attacked as a 'tax bombshell'. Mrs Beckett was responsible, as shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, for agreeing the spending pledges. She said: 'At the last election we took the process of devising as detailed programme as we reasonably could, as rigorously costed as at all possible, to just about as far as we could take it. Now we have the benefit of hindsight, we can see that some of those judgements were taken against the background of not knowing the true state of public finances.'

Bryan Gould, the former shadow minister, who is retiring from politics, accused the Labour leadership of waiting for the 'fruit' of election victory to drop in its lap. 'If the Tories, as I expect, replace their leaders and bring down some artificial pre- election boom with tax cuts, we could look rather sick unless the voters can see some reason for voting Labour.'

David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, will today put further pressure on the shadow Treasury team in a speech calling for Labour to guarantee that its pledges on public services will be met from taxation. He will tell a union conference in Blackpool: 'We cannot solve problems just by taking them out of public spending. . . Taxes should be a payment for services and an investment in the future, not water down the well of Tory incompetence.' He will argue that the Tories have created an 'off balance sheet' approach, offloading spending demands on to individuals, which Labour should reject.

(Photograph omitted)

Leading article, page 15

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