Page last updated at 12:31 GMT, Wednesday, 15 July 2009 13:31 UK

Tell it straight on debt - Clarke

Ken Clarke
The shadow business secretary was chancellor from 1993-97

Ken Clarke has accused Gordon Brown of a "lack of candour" on public spending, in a speech to business leaders.

He said the prime minister was "trying to hide the scale of the crisis" by delaying a spending review and should "tell it straight".

Failing to address the issue would lead to a loss of market confidence, the shadow business secretary said.

Labour says the Tories are planning stinging cuts while the Tories have accused Labour of being dishonest.

Both parties have been under pressure to spell out how they would tackle the UK's biggest peacetime deficit, ahead of the general election which must be held by next June.

We need frankness in our political dialogue
Ken Clarke
Shadow business secretary

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson has suggested there will be no comprehensive spending review before the next general election - although the chancellor has since said there could be one.

The last comprehensive spending review (CSR) - normally held every two years - was in 2007, covering the period up to 2011.

In his speech at the Institution of Civil Engineers, Mr Clarke said putting one off until after the next general election was "the single gravest example of this government's lack of candour".

"We have never needed a spending review as desperately as we need one today," he said.

"Since the last CSR the predicted budget deficit for 2010/11 has grown from 1.7% to 12% of GDP ... And what do we get from the government here? Nothing, except a denial from the prime minister that a problem in public spending levels exists."

'Crude' attacks

He said political debate on public spending had been "dumbed down" and businesses needed "certainty" to plan ahead.

"The risk, if we do not have a sensible debate on public spending, is that no action will be taken to get public borrowing onto a credible downward course," he said.

"Interest rates will be driven up and stifle the recovery before it can become established. Not only will the consumer be crowded out but business will be too."

He pledged that the Conservatives would bring "bring candour back to government".

"We need frankness in our political dialogue. Tell it straight. It is going to be very tough."

The prime minister has urged politicians to be careful about "crude" personal attacks - after Conservative leader David Cameron said he was not being straight with the public about the need for future spending cuts.

Labour says improvements in public services can still be maintained despite the tougher economic climate.

Ministers insist that real spending can increase after 2011 if tough decisions are taken on tax and "efficiencies" and accuse the Tories of planning 10% cuts in many areas.

The Liberal Democrats say both of the main parties need to be more honest about the fact that "big programmes" will have to be cut back.

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