Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tax Questions Bug Howard's Health Drive

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tax Questions Bug Howard's Health Drive

Article excerpt

Byline: By Zoe Hughes

Tax plans were at the centre of the election battleground yesterday as Labour and the Conservatives traded blows over their ability to run the economy.

As Tony Blair and Gordon Brown unveiled their poster campaign on the economy, Tory leader Michael Howard was forced on the defensive about spending cuts under a Conservative government.

Mr Howard has come under heavy fire since sacking deputy chairman Howard Flight from his Arundel and South Downs seatafter he suggested Tory plans to reduce public spending went further than the party had admitted.

The leader had hoped the selection of Nick Herbert, who fought Berwick in 1997 and came third, as a replacement would calm troubled waters. But yesterday a new row broke out over Mr Herbert's views.

The Conservatives turned their fire on Chancellor Gordon Brown, challenging him to rule out post-election tax rises.

But as Cabinet ministers last night approved final touches to Labour's manifesto, to be published next Tuesday, Mr Brown refused to say whether National Insurance contributions could rise after May 5.

The party is expected to commit itself to ruling out increases to the basic and top rates of income tax in the manifesto, but Mr Brown declined to comment on the NI issue, saying his plans were affordable and he would keep his poll pledges.

Tax is seen as one of the major stumbling blocks in Labour's campaign. Before the last election, Mr Blair denied planning to increase NI contributions but in the subsequent Budget Mr Brown introduced a 1pc surcharge to cover extra NHS spending.

"You will see what we promise on taxes in our manifesto. It will set out in detail what we will do on taxation. Then you will see what promises we make," Mr Brown said, although he outlined plans to switch savings from unemployment benefit directly into education and for a more intensive job-seekers' programme. …

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