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Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 14:44 GMT
Tories struggle with tax row
After 24 hours on the rack over their alleged plans to cut taxes by £20bn, the Tories have attempted to get off the back foot on the issue.
Shadow Chancellor Michael Portillo confirmed that, after the first two years of a Tory government, there were "aspirations" for even more tax cuts over and above the £8bn already pledged.
As Labour seized on the issue to ridicule the Tories - particularly the alleged source of the leak, treasury spokesman Oliver Letwin - Mr Portillo forlornly tried to turn the tables.
He declared it was clearly logical that a Tory government already committed to cuts in its first two years would plan for more in the second half of a parliament.
But his comments seemed designed to fan the suggestion that there would be more to come from a Tory government.
Meanwhile, however, William Hague appeared to be sticking to the line that £8bn was the only figure worth talking about.
And the difference in emphasis between the two men underlines the dilemma the Tories are facing in the wake of the suggestion - let alone a possible division between them.
They just can't seem to make up their minds whether the affair has been a coup or a disaster.
On the one hand they believe voters are wooed by tax cuts and want to up the ante in the taxation stakes.
That originally led to claims by some Tories that the leak had been a good thing and they had stolen a march on Labour.
There was even speculation that the newspaper report had been deliberately placed to whip the rug from under the Labour campaign and seize the initiative.
If that was the case, it badly backfired because, on the other hand, they now appear vulnerable to opposition claims that they could only make such cuts at the expense of public services.
It will put them on continued pressure to spell out exactly how the tax cuts would be made.
They were extremely careful to detail every saving they claim would pay for their existing £8bn cut, and even those figures have been challenged by the other parties.
The last thing they now want is to be constantly challenged to come up with new figures which they, probably, have not got.
And Chancellor Gordon Brown has shown he is not about to let this one drop, changing the theme of his morning press conference to concentrate on it.
He published a wanted poster offering a £20bn reward if he Mr Letwin was found and stopped.
The fact it included a spelling mistake - wherabouts instead of whereabouts - didn't blunt the edge of the attack.
And he claimed the Tory spokesman was being hidden in a safe house, but no longer had a safe seat in Dorset West.
He demanded the Tories "Letwin speak" and called for the freeing of the "Dorset One."
For the first time in the campaign, Mr Brown appeared to be genuinely enjoying himself.
And he had some reason because the row has stalled what many had seen as the beginning of a Tory bandwagon and snatched the momentum away from the Tories.
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