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Last Updated: Friday, 3 March 2006, 14:36 GMT
West: Tories that love low taxes
Dave Harvey
Dave Harvey
The Politics Show West

David Cameron
David Cameron says it is time for change

David Cameron wants to be judged by helping the poor and saving the planet, but in Gloucestershire, Tories fight on grammar schools, roads and low low taxes.

"Repeat after me: The right test for our policies ..."
"The Right test for our policies ..."
"Is how they help the most disadvantaged"
"Is how they help the most disadvantaged"

It is not a medieval catechism, it is the new Tory Credo.

I am reciting it with Barry Dare, leader of Gloucestershire's conservatives and Leader of the Council.

Barry says he has no problem with the Tory Relaunch, but I wonder.

Barry's conservatives won power last summer after 20 years of opposition.

They fought on a very specific slate: Save the Grammar Schools; Cut Council Tax; Invest in Roads; Hire more Police. It worked.

And this week, they unveiled the lowest council tax rise across the west. Most councils came in just under the 5% rise set by Whitehall as an upper limit.

But in Gloucestershire, council tax will go up by 3.5%.

So can you cut taxes and spend millions on roads, and still be a Cameronite lover of the poor and the planet?

Roads first. Barry has boosted roads spending by 4m this year, to 38m.

He showed me smooth new roundabouts and junctions on the vicious A 417 at Severn Springs.

He takes pride in making the motorist's journey easier, safer, less bumpy. How green is that?

"Perfectly green" he insists, "the cars and lorries will be here anyway - why is it more green for them to bump over potholes?

"And Whitehall seems to have this idea that cars are a luxury - well, in the countryside they aren't."

So in Tory land, roads can be green. Can tax cuts help vulnerable people?

Labour says the new Gloucestershire budget only cuts taxes by hurting vulnerable people.

They point to the "Carers Grant", a 1.5m fund which gives respite care to people caring for disabled relatives.

Under the new budget, 500,000 will be "saved" through efficiencies.

The conservatives haven't said how yet, but already people are fearing the worst.

"People can get two or four hours help a week from our scheme, it makes all the difference".

Debra Ireland works for Stroud's Alzheimers Society, giving carers a well-earned break.

"If these cuts go through, those people will not be able to cope, and their relatives will end up in long term care."

So Barry - how does this meet David Cameron's new test?

"Of course we're not hurting the disadvantaged" he says, "the whole platform of conservative philosophy is to help people, not things.

But our mission is to keep taxes down, for the thousands of people who can't afford a compulsory hike."

So who are the disadvantaged - the carers waiting for a council grant? Or the pensioners hoping for low council tax?

Wise men in Westminster wondered this week what the David Cameron credo would mean in practice.

Wise men from Westminster should go west - and see.

The Politics Show

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