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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 April, 2005, 09:47 GMT 10:47 UK
Flight replacement sparks new row
Howard Flight
Howard Flight and wife Christabel leave the selection meeting
The Tories have chosen a replacement for sacked MP Howard Flight but the selection of think-tank boss Nick Herbert has not ended the controversy.

Mr Flight was sacked after hinting Tory plans for reducing public spending went further than the party had admitted.

Labour says Mr Herbert voiced similar views in a 2002 Spectator article.

But the new candidate for Arundel and South Downs, selected on Wednesday, insisted he was "absolutely supportive" of Michael Howard's economic plans.

Labour's election chief Alan Milburn said Mr Herbert's selection for Arundel and South Downs had "confirmed the Tories' secret cuts agenda".

Mr Milburn added: "In November 2002, Nick Herbert wrote in the Spectator: 'The whisper is that there is a top secret, extremely clever strategy afoot: go along with spending rises now, but return to a tax cutting agenda when - if - the party is re-elected.'

'Supportive'

"Howard Flight was not a one off. Cutting public services is the ideological obsession of today's Conservative Party."

The Tories say the article has been taken "grossly out of context" and Mr Herbert insists he fully supports Mr Howard's published spending plans.

Nick Herbert
Mr Herbert says his article has been misread

The new candidate said in a statement: "In that Spectator article I was warning the party against a strategy which quite rightly was never adopted.

"Because Michael Howard is a very straight politician, he has always argued that you can't offer tax cuts without identifying where the money will come from."

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable said economic policy was the Tories' "Achilles' heel".

He told BBC News: "They are simultaneously claiming they can spend more money, cut taxes and maintain budget discipline all at the same time. That really isn't credible."

Opinions in print

Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin said: "There are plenty of people within the party and outside it, who think that we have either done too much or too little. That is a perfectly legitimate disagreement.

"What is absolute is that we have set out the plans, and we will live by those plans, we will govern by those plans if we are elected after 5 May".

Mr Flight was a key architect of Tory economic policy and was involved in setting up the James review into public spending, which identified 35bn of savings.

He was banned from standing as an election candidate after hinting further tax and spending cuts would be possible once the Conservatives were in power.

Earlier Harold Hall, the vice-president of the Conservative Association in Arundel and South Downs, expressed surprise that, given what had happened to Mr Flight, Mr Herbert was even being considered.

I'm very glad Nick has been selected; he's a first-class guy
Howard Flight
Sacked MP

Mr Hall said the article suggested Mr Herbert wanted taxes cut at the expense of public services.

"In other words he is on the very course that Michael Howard doesn't want greater publicity given to at this point in time," he said.

Mr Howard's decision to ban Mr Flight from standing as a Tory election candidate caused anger in the constituency, with many members complaining the party leader's action was draconian.

Mr Flight said he had been misrepresented but welcomed his replacement as a "first-class guy".





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