Page last updated at 15:54 GMT, Wednesday, 22 April 2009 16:54 UK

UK economy in a 'mess' - Cameron

David Cameron accuses Labour of leaving an 'utter mess'

Labour has left the economy in an "utter mess", Tory leader David Cameron has said, after the chancellor said the economy would shrink 3.5% this year.

The UK was in the worst recession since 1945, he said, and Labour's claim to economic competence was "dead".

But the Tories have said they will not commit to reverse Labour's proposal to raise the top rate of tax to 50%.

In his speech, Alistair Darling said the economy would recover in 2010 but borrowing would total £175bn this year.

'Red chapter'

Describing the Budget as a "missed opportunity", Mr Cameron said the government was "running out of money, moral authority and time".

"As of today, any claim they have ever made to economic competence is dead, over, finished," he said.

He said the chancellor's predictions for future growth in the economy - Mr Darling forecast the economy would expand by 1.25% in 2010 and by 3.5% in the year after - were wildly unrealistic.

He [Gordon Brown] will never bring the changes required because he does not accept the economic model he has run during the last 12 years is fundamentally bust

David Cameron

Borrowing levels announced in the Budget - amounting to nearly £350bn over the next two years - were historic, Mr Cameron claimed.

The chancellor had "written a whole chapter of red ink" while failing to come up with a credible plan to bring the public finances back into balance.

He said Gordon Brown failed to grasp the extent of the problems facing the UK because he was in denial about his role in causing them.

"He will never bring the changes required because he does not accept the economic model he has run during the last 12 years is fundamentally bust," he said.

The Conservative leader attacked a plan to raise income tax on earnings above £150,000 a year to 50% next April as politically driven and said other tax increases, including a 2p rise in fuel duty, would hit the poorest in society.

However, the Conservatives have indicated that they will not reverse the proposed 50p tax rate if they win the next election.

Treasury spokesman Philip Hammond told the BBC his party could not "in all honesty" promise this given the scale of the "black hole" in the public finances.

"We are not going to make a commitment to repeal the 50p tax rate," he said, adding the Tories would instead seek to reduce the tax burden for those on middle and lower incomes.

"We are going to focus on the taxes for the many."

The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson said the 50p tax proposal, which, if introduced before the next election would break a manifesto pledge by Labour, was partly designed to wrong-foot the opposition as many Conservatives would want their leadership to oppose it.

Earlier, during prime minister's questions, Mr Brown accused the Conservatives of wanting to "cut their way through" the recession and do nothing to help the unemployed.

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