Britain’s two main political parties are guilty of a “grand deception” by claiming that they can either cut taxes or maintain public spending without spelling out in detail how their plans will be funded, Danny Alexander said on Tuesday.
In a move to reinforce the Liberal Democrats’ claim to be a moderating force in the centre ground, the chief secretary to the Treasury said that neither Labour nor the Tories were being honest about the £30bn of extra savings that need to be achieved.
Speaking to journalists at a Westminster lunch, Alexander ridiculed Tory plans for tax cuts of up to £7bn in the next parliament while pledging to deliver an overall budget surplus. He also dismissed Labour, which outlined plans at its conference for tax increases of £2.5bn to help fund around 2% of the NHS budget.
He said: “A political class that rushes to proclaim what it will spend and how it will cut taxes without saying how it will be funded, when there are thirty-odd billion of savings that need to be found, are attempting a grand deception. If we don’t collectively level with people over the next six months our already-damaged political system will become more tarnished yet.”
Alexander was scornful of his Treasury boss George Osborne who claims that he can eliminate the deficit – and deliver an overall surplus – by spending cuts alone while also cutting taxes. He said: “To claim this gap can be closed and tax cuts paid for by spending cuts alone is simply not credible. It would also be eye-wateringly unfair on the working poor who would pay the highest price.
“The burden has to be fairly shared across society and that has to mean that those with the broadest shoulders pay a little extra tax. Pretending that the job can be finished by spending cuts alone is as bad as pretending that the problem doesn’t exist at all.”
The treasury chief secretary also mocked Osborne for being so tight-fisted that he keeps his milk in a padlocked fridge in the treasury. “We do share things – but not the milk, which to my amusement he still keeps under lock and key,” Alexander said. “Really, his fridge in the Treasury kitchen is replete with a padlock. Yes, it must have been tough at St Paul’s.”
But Osborne found support from an unlikely quarter. Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s former special adviser, tweeted: “If I recall rightly, Kev put the lock on the fridge in the 2nd floor kitchen in 2006 to stop me nicking Gordon’s Highland Spring #fridgegate”
In his speech, Alexander said there would be no “unfunded giveaways” in next month’s budget. But he said he would be putting pressure on heating oil suppliers to to pass on recent cuts in the price of crude oil to 1.5m households. “I will be holding a round table with that industry in the Treasury to get that message across to those organisations that they need to be passing on the fall in oil prices just as filling stations do,” he said.
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