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Last Updated: Friday, 4 November 2005, 00:40 GMT
Tory rivals row over tax and spin
David Cameron and David Davis

Tory leadership rivals David Davis and David Cameron have accused each other of imitating Tony Blair in their clash on BBC One's Question Time.

Mr Davis claimed his rival was focusing on spin rather than substance, but Mr Cameron countered by saying Mr Davis was setting policies to win headlines.

The pair also argued over tax, Europe and drugs in the hour-long encounter.

Ballot papers are being sent to the 300,000 party members who have until 5 December to decide on a new leader.

'Era of spin'

Thursday's televised debate underlined key differences in approach between the two contenders.

AUDIENCE VERDICT
Christine Jeffreys
The majority of the people in the Conservative Party who want to make it tick I think will be voting for David Davis. I certainly will
Christine Jeffreys, studio audience

Mr Cameron wants to set the general Tory direction now but not rush into details, concentrating on getting things right in the long term.

But Mr Davis said the public wanted to know what Tory policies would mean.

Voters had seen three Blair governments and were tired of the "era of spin", he said.

"So frankly, this is the worst moment for the Conservative Party to imitate Tony Blair."

Mr Cameron denied claims from one member of the studio audience that he was giving only "waffle".

"Don't make the mistake of trying to set out every day in this leadership campaign policies that will make us look ridiculous in five years' time," he said.

"Imitating Blair is producing a policy for tomorrow's newspapers, that is what Blair has done."

Two referendums

On policies, shadow home secretary Mr Davis has suggested a referendum to demand full-scale return of power from the European Union to Britain.

David Davis
David Davis stressed his experience

This would be followed by a second referendum after talks with the European Union, so voters could judge if he had delivered the goods.

Mr Cameron said he wanted to see the UK take back some powers on social policy and employment policy.

But he suggested the referendums idea was designed to win favourable media coverage.

Tax and drugs were other flashpoints during the debate.

Mr Davis has set out plans to produce 38bn a year in tax cuts by the general election after next.

He said the Institute for Fiscal Studies had said Mr Cameron's different approach - to share the proceeds of economic growth between investing in public services and having low taxes - did not mean anything.

'Credible' drugs policy

Mr Cameron defended his plan, saying it was not sensible to set out more detailed plans so far ahead of the next general election.

David Cameron
David Cameron wants ecstasy downgraded

Mr Cameron, who has refused to answer questions about whether he took drugs at university, said he would like to see ecstasy downgraded.

Classification of cannabis also had to be "credible" with young people, he said, although he acknowledged there were stronger types of the drug available now which could cause mental illness.

Mr Davis opposed loosening policies on drugs, particularly ecstasy, saying they destroyed lives.

The pair were also asked what counted more for a Tory leader: youth or experience.

Mr Davis, 56, said he had taken on Labour's big hitters but Mr Cameron, 39, argued that what really mattered was setting the right direction for the party.

About half the members of the studio audience in Nottingham were Conservatives, with the remainder drawn proportionately from the rest of the electorate. There was also a balance of supporters for the two candidates.


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