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Friday, November 5, 1999 Published at 14:43 GMT

UK Politics

Brown budgets for the ballot box

Gordon Brown: No spending spree in the run up to the next election

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

Gordon Brown's pre-Budget statement next Tuesday will see the chancellor firmly setting his sights on the general election.

But it will not be the next poll which will be demanding the chancellor's attention but the one after that.

Both Mr Brown and the prime minister have insisted time and again that there will be no spending spree in the run up to the next election - still believed to be in 2001.

[ image: Tony Blair wants ministers to look to the next election]
Tony Blair wants ministers to look to the next election
They insist the government has sorted out Britain's public finances and have put the country in some of the best economic conditions it has enjoyed for decades.

Previous budgets have offered some large spending commitments on public services and many of those measures are still working their way through the system.

Many of the chancellor's proposals will bear fruit before the next poll, which ministers believe will give them a significant boost with voters.

But they are keenly aware that they are highly likely to win that election - and they are determined not to land themselves with economic problems sparked by an ill-advised spending programme now.

War chest denied

Tony Blair has always taken the long political view and is constantly urging ministers to look beyond the next election to the following one and even the one after that.

He would dearly love to match Margaret Thatcher's electoral record, and even beat it.

So it is virtually certain that the chancellor will stick to his word and refuse to promise any major new spending programmes.

He keeps denying persistent reports that he is building up a massive war chest which will be splashed around before the election.

[ image: Previous statements have seen benefits for pensioners]
Previous statements have seen benefits for pensioners
And he has long been hammering home the message that the government will not spend money it has not earned.

However, the chancellor loves nothing more than pulling the odd rabbit out of the hat to delight his backbenchers and dismay the opposition.

So, while few believe he will take the lid off spending, he is still likely to come up with a few goodies.

In the previous two pre-Budget statements he offered pensioners help with meeting winter fuel bills, vastly expanded child care facilities for lone parents, and put more cash into the NHS.

The government's overwhelming priority at the moment is to ensure that it meets the five key pledges it made at the last general election, particularly on public services.

But is also wants to ensure that, when it is re-elected, it still has a firm grip on the economy and can set its sights on the next poll.

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