Opinion: Only brave tax policies can save the Tories

With most of the nation's media still obsessed with the Blunkett affair, last week's important pre-Budget report was a one-day wonder. Chancellor Gordon Brown's wife Sarah may have found time to lunch with the Home Secretary, but her husband will have been less supportive. He would have preferred stories about the Tories' latest split over tax to have dominated the news.

It seems incredible that with just six months before the expected general election, the Conservative Party still doesn't seem to have a clear economic strategy. The comparison with Brown's reign as shadow chancellor, when he worked out that Labour had to ditch its tax-and-spend image, could hardly be starker.

Of course taxes have risen, but Brown, cleverly, never said they wouldn't - that was left to the PM, who blurted out at a Millbank press conference that taxes wouldn't rise 'at all' under Labour. It was income tax that Brown promised not to raise and, as he loves to point out, he not only kept that promise but cut income tax in an early Labour budget.

The Tories in opposition have had no sensible PR strategy to counter Brown - just a series of failed shadow chancellors too numerous to remember.

The latest postholder, Oliver Letwin, will fail too unless he moves very quickly to establish in voters' minds the Conservatives' tax-cut policy.

All we get are vague promises about tax and spending, so Labour can happily accuse the Tories of wanting to savagely cut public services. Anyone who wants to know just how terrible the Tory line is should listen to a tape of the BBC's Westminster Hour with Andrew Rawnsley interviewing Conservative environment and transport spokesman Tim Yeo. He has been left to hang out to dry by Letwin because of the shadow chancellor's admission that the transport budget would effectively be cut under the Tories. Yeo's party-conference pledge of faster train tracks was torn to shreds in the Rawnsley interview.

To those Tories advising against their party's tax-cut policy, I say two words: Bush and Berlusconi. I was having dinner with an Italian friend last week who told me how much he hated his leader, but that he would get re-elected because of his tax-cut plans.

I am sure the Conservatives will eventually get round to announcing specific tax-cutting measures, but it will inevitably be too little too late.

If the Tories want to avoid another landslide defeat, only a bold and radical tax cut can save them.

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