Labour accused of poll bribe as it halts 2p rise in fuel duty
GORDON Brown was accused yesterday of trying to bribe the voters of Glasgow East after the Treasury unveiled plans to ditch its 2p rise in fuel duty only eight days before the by-election.
Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, and David Cameron, of the Conservatives, accused the Prime Minister of playing politics with oil ahead of the poll, which could cost him his premiership if Labour loses the safe seat.
The 2p-a-litre rise was due in October, but Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, said he was postponing it until at least next April to help hard-pressed families grappling with rising prices.
Delaying the rise twice this year – it had already been put back from April to October – has cost the Treasury some 1 billion.
The charge that the latest delay was a bribe was strenuously denied by Mr Brown and the Treasury, who pointed out that proposed fuel duty rises had been delayed for the past four autumns.
The Glasgow East constituency has the 11th lowest rate of car ownership in the UK, with 57 per cent of households not having one, according to 2001 census data.
But Mr Salmond said the price of fuel still impacted on the cost of living in general.
He said the delay was proof "political pressure pays off" and that the government was worried about defeat in Glasgow East.
The SNP leader said the freezing of the duty was likely to fail to boost Labour's popularity – just as a 2.7 billion plan to help 5.3 million losers from the abolition of the 10p income tax band had failed to stave off defeat in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election in May.
At Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Cameron asked Mr Brown whether, after months of "dithering", the 2p increase in duty had been ditched because of the by-election. Mr Brown insisted: "It is right to announce, as we have done previously, our decision before the House rises."
Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats' economics spokesman, later warned that the Treasury could not afford to put off fuel duty rises, and accused the government of gambling on oil prices continuing to rise. Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Conservative leader, told The Scotsman Mr Darling was simply postponing the pain.
"What the Chancellor needs to do is adopt Conservative policy and implement (shadow chancellor] George Osborne's proposals for a fuel duty regulator, which would cut 5p off a litre of fuel right now."
Motoring organisations and business groups welcomed the delay as a step in the right direction, but it was unclear whether the move would pay off at the polls.
On the streets of Glasgow East, everybody spoken to by The Scotsman was concerned about the cost of fuel, but there was little indication Mr Darling's move had swayed voters.
Outside a branch of Tesco, off Shettleston Road, Mary McNab said prices were so high that she had driven to Asda to fill up and save a few pence per litre.
"I have been Labour all my life," she said. "I will never vote for them again. I'm totally and utterly scunnered at what they have done with the country. They have not done anything for us. But I still don't know who I'll vote for."
One 68-year-old pensioner from the Dennistoun area, who declined to be named, said: "I would vote Labour. I feel, all in all, they have done well by us pensioners. We get free travel and things like that. It's just the petrol you get frightened from. I try and not use the car as often now."
But another long-standing Labour voter said she was so disillusioned with the party that she probably would not vote next Thursday. "I'm 66 now and for the first time, I don't know who the hell to vote for," she said. "I don't think I'm voting at all. I'm ashamed to say that – the Suffragettes suffered for me to get the vote. But I don't believe anything any of them say."
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