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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 July, 2004, 13:57 GMT 14:57 UK
Battle of the cutters
Summer diary
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Just when you think it's safe to go on holiday - up pops Oliver Letwin.

Oliver Letwin
Letwin wants to do less
The Tories have spotted the fact that nothing is happening in Westminster - well, Tony is on holiday so what's the point - and have leapt in to fill the vacuum with new, or at least re-heated policies.

Today was the shadow chancellor's turn and, along with two frontbench colleagues, he came to Westminster's Jubilee room armed with a computer display and a weighty document designed to show how a Tory government would take a scythe to the department for rural affairs.

It is all part of the opposition's attempt to sack more civil servants than Labour, flog off swathes of Whitehall and make the whole shebang of government as efficient as a Japanese car plant.

And few will pick an argument with Mr Letwin when he says, as he did many times, that he wants government to do a lot less.

Oliver Letwin has scored a massive own goal
John Healey
Treasury Minister

In that spirit, it did cross minds why it therefore needed three shadow ministers to do this particular presentation.

Still, his proposal for a figurative deforestation of the department seemed to add up.

Indeed he presented a superficially convincing case that the Tories could indeed out perform Labour on this issue.

Whitehall faces the axe
And there is the rub really. Thanks to some blatant burglary, Chancellor Gordon Brown has already nicked this policy and is now trying to sell it to voters off the back of his Treasury lorry.

That has left the Tories with little left other than to try and show how they would be better at this game than Labour.

Job cuts

And they might, and the figures might even suggest that they might. And they say it was their idea in the first place.

But the core problem is that, when it comes to flogging this second hand message, you pays your money and you takes your choice.

It all boils down to who you trust to deliver on their guarantees.

Mr Letwin suggested the simple difference between him and Mr Brown is that the chancellor says he will make his savings through efficiencies and back office job cuts while the Tories will make even bigger savings by shrinking the overall size of government.

Labour has accused the Tories of wanting to cut frontline workers through their spending plans.

But as I said - you pays your money and you takes your choice.

Tories doubt Brown's 'job cuts'
17 Apr 05 |  UK Election 2005
Brown axes 104,000 civil servants
12 Jul 04 |  UK Election 2005
Prescott takes the helm
27 Jul 04 |  UK Election 2005

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