Tory tax cuts a thing of the past under IDS


The Tories will tear up their traditional taxcutting agenda at the next election, it emerged yesterday, and promise to pump money into ailing public services.

The policy switch was announced at the party's spring conference less than a month before what is expected to be a tax- raising Budget from Chancellor Gordon Brown.

And the Conservative leadership signalled its intention not to pledge to slash, or reverse, Labour's tax increases when they fight the election in three or four years' time.

It will be the first time in a generation that the party has abandoned the tax-cutting agenda.

Senior shadow ministers insisted that only after the problems of health, transport and the police had been dealt with would lower taxes even be discussed.

The about-turn emphasises party leader Iain Duncan Smith's intention to fundamentally reposition the Tories as the party that champions the vulnerable rather than the rich.

He wants to put the greatest possible distance between his leadership and that of his onetime idol Margaret Thatcher to shake off the 'uncaring' image which burdened the party in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Key to this was shadow chancellor Michael Howard's warning to delegates at the conference in Harrogate that tax cuts were no longer the top priority, although he maintained the party's attack on Labour's stealth taxes.

He said: 'For Conservatives, reforming and improving our public services must be our priority. I know many people have struggled to pay the extra taxes Labour has imposed since 1997 and I've always believed that low-tax economies are more successful.

'But there are times when priorities must lie elsewhere. Today is such a time. Our public services have reached crisis point.

'At a time when the Government has failed patients, passengers and parents alike, reforming and improving these services must be our overriding priority.'

Mr Howard attacked Labour's tax increases, which have increased the burden by £100billion a year since 1997.

But although he reserved the right to continue criticising future tax rises, he indicated that he was not planning to reverse them at once if the Conservatives were returned to power.

Speaking earlier yesterday, work and pensions spokesman David Willetts suggested the Tories would not cut taxes until several years into their first term back in office.

He told BBC1's Breakfast with Frost: ' Eventually I do want to see a successful economy where there are lower levels of tax.

'But we know that is something we will only be able to achieve after we have sorted out the public services.

'That's the priority, and then we all very much hope we will be able to lower taxes.'

The Tory policy on taxes will wrongfoot Labour, which has accused the Opposition of wanting to slash public spending in order to lower taxes.

At the conference Mr Duncan Smith, in his most important speech since he was elected leader six months ago, attacked Tony Blair for 'failing to protect the vulnerable'.

He declared: 'They seek headlines not policies, slogans not solutions. This isn't a Government - it's an advertisement.

'They are caught in a corrupting spiral where politics for its own sake is not only failing to improve people's lives, it is also undermining everyone's faith in our political process.'

Mr Duncan Smith called for a fundamental change in his party to convince the electorate that the Conservatives of today were not the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher.

Though he paid tribute to Lady Thatcher and wished her a speedy recovery, he pledged that under his leadership the party would help all Britons, rich and poor alike.

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