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Shadow Chancellor, Michael Portillo
"I think that people have been terribly over-taxed by this government"
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The BBC's Sean Curran
"The Conservative party hopes to harness the anger from last year's fuel protests"
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Thursday, 10 May, 2001, 09:33 GMT
Tories 'to cut fuel duty'
A woman fills up after last year's fuel protests
Hague wants to use discontent on fuel prices
William Hague will put tax at the centre of the campaign when he unveils the Conservative manifesto on Thursday.

The Tory leader will promise to cut fuel duty by six pence and to give 8bn worth of tax breaks to pensioners, savers and families.


We can leave taxpayers with more of their money

Michael Portillo
But at his first news conference of the campaign Tony Blair accused the Tories of making irresponsible promises and said their economic polices lacked the credibility necessary for government.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy - in Southampton on his flying tour of the UK - was also scathing, saying Tory sums would unravel during the course of the campaign.

Stealing a march

The 48-page Conservative manifesto will centre on the themes of freedom, responsibility and a "sense of Britain".

Mr Hague says in his foreword: "Our programme is rooted in the instincts of the millions of people whose beliefs are mocked by Labour. It is rooted, in other words, in common sense."

The party's decision to be first to unveil its policy promises is aimed at stealing a march on Labour and the Lib Dems.

The Tories are seeking to capitalise on discontent over fuel duty.

Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling
Mr Darling: Says he will reveal Tory 'black hole'
The issue was at the heart of last year's fuel protests, which saw the Conservatives move briefly ahead of Labour in opinion polls for the only time during the last parliament.

The duty cut would cost the Treasury 2.2bn a year in lost revenue, according to Tory strategists.

This completes the promised 8bn in tax cuts which the party says it can make through government savings, including cracking down on benefit fraud and Whitehall bureaucracy.

Shadow chancellor Michael Portillo said: "The government spends 12,000 every second of taxpayers' money and most people who deal with government know a lot of that is wasted."

He added: "It means we can leave taxpayers with more of their money."

Mr Hague will set out plans to help local residents keep down council tax bills.

Other proposals include forcing councils to hold referenda before raising council tax significantly above inflation.

Three themes

The 50-pledge manifesto will be built around three guiding themes:

  • Giving freedom for people to make their own choices.

  • Encouraging people to take more responsibility for themselves and their families.

  • Helping people to understand "who they are" as a nation.

    In a pre-emptive strike at Labour's first morning press conference of the campaign, Mr Blair said the economy would be the defining issue of the election.

    "The choice between the two main political parties is fundamental," he said.

    "Stability and opportunity or return to 15% interest rates and negative equity.

    "Record investment in schools and hospitals or cuts in public services.

    "The targeted, affordable tax cuts we have made or irresponsible tax cuts that would threaten a return to boom and bust."

    'Economic credibility'

    The Tories lost their claim to economic credibility at the last recession and "nothing they have done since has got it back", he added.

    Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling said the Tory sums didn't add up and vowed to reveal their "true cost" with a detailed breakdown later on Thursday.

    Charles Kennedy said of the Conservative proposals: "Their figures simply do not add up. 8 billion worth of spending cuts would have to be found if they implement those kind of pledges."

    He dismissed the Tories proposed 6p a litre fuel tax cut as a stunt that voters would see through.

    "People do not have the short memories that William Hague and Michael Portillo are hoping. The fuel escalator was brought in under Conservative Chancellor Ken Clarke."

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