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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 February, 2004, 11:38 GMT
Tories hint at low rate tax cuts
Michael Howard
Mr Howard is continuing the Tory policy of low taxes
Conservative co-chairman Lord Maurice Saatchi has hinted a Tory government would cut taxes for the lowest paid.

The advertising supremo said it was a "chronic injustice" for those below the poverty line to pay income tax but added it was not his decision to make.

Lord Saatchi spoke to the Guardian in an interview to mark Michael Howard's first 100 days as Conservative leader.

Lord Heseltine, the former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister, said Mr Howard had made the party a "fighting force".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The morale in the Tory party has been dramatically changed from one of absolute despair and hopelessness to one in which it is now a fighting force anxious to be led.

"Michael Howard has shown the sophistication to rebalance the party in a way that is designed to lead a united party and to lead it from the centre."

He said the government "almost certainly lied" on Iraq and had introduced stealth taxes depite promising not to increase tax.

No promise

Earlier Lord Saatchi told the Guardian the tax issue had irked him when he was Tory treasury spokesman.

He said: "I came across what I saw as a chronic injustice, which was that poor people pay more tax than rich people. That strikes me as not right."

The co-chairman has spoken before about taxing the poor, when he contributed to a 2001 report entitled Poor People! Stop Paying Tax.

Like all policies in the manifesto, that will be Michael's decision
Lord Saatchi
Conservative co-chairman
At the time he called for the income tax threshold to be raised from the then figure of 4,385 to 10,000.

But in his interview with the Guardian he did not offer a concrete pledge of a cut for those on low incomes.

"It is a possibility. But like all policies in the manifesto, that will be Michael's decision."

Mr Howard has argued against high taxes, saying they have a negative effect on people.

In his recent "British Dream" speech, he said: "When taxes rise too high, they start to bring people low.

"There is a moral reason for government to take less from people in taxation.

"If people are highly taxed, they come to believe that their obligations to society and to one another are discharged just by handing money over to the government."

'No idea'

But Cabinet Office minister Douglas Alexander dismissed Lord Saatchi's comments on taxation.

He said: "Every time they open their mouths they make another uncosted commitment. No one will believe the Tories' opportunistic claims until they show how they will be paid for.

"This latest idea that the Tories have failed to provide a cost for would in fact cost 30bn and the Tories have no idea how they would pay for it.

"And far from helping poorer families the Tories voted against the National Minimum Wage and would scrap our tax credits, which are helping six million low and middle income families."

The BBC's Shaun Ley
"Mr Howard has made a series of speeches shifting party policy"

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