Conservatives are kidding themselves and the voters over the “huge” scale of cuts they would impose if they win the general election, Nick Clegg has said.
The Deputy Prime Minister hit back at Tory claims that the Liberal Democrats would wreak “economic chaos” in a future government, and told his coalition partners to “come clean”.
Mr Clegg dodged questions over whether he would back a VAT hike if he was returned to power and claimed the Conservatives “constantly” tell him privately that they support his plans for a mansion tax.
He told said: “It’s extraordinary, actually, that Conservatives, particularly since they constantly tell me privately that that’s a good idea… constantly reject it in public.
“I just think the Conservatives are kidding themselves and seeking to kid British voters if they are claiming that it is possible to balance the books, deliver unfunded tax cuts, shrink the state and support public services in the way that everybody wants. It just doesn’t add up.”
The Deputy Prime Minister was accused of trying to distance himself from the Autumn Statement last week after failing to show up for the set-piece House of Commons event, but has insisted he fully supported the measures that had been announced.
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He warned, however, that a future Conservative government would “remorselessly” pare back the state every year, hitting public services and the working age poor “very hard”.
Mr Clegg told the Andrew Marr Show: “I do think the Conservatives now need to come clean because they are not being straightforward with people. How many colleges will be closed, how many primary schools will be closed, how many police will be taken off our streets, how many people who are in the working age poor will be hit by these plans?”
His comments came after George Osborne launched an outspoken attack on his Lib Dem colleagues and claimed that Mr Clegg wants to mete out “hefty” income tax and national insurance increases to avoid further significant cuts to public spending.
The Chancellor insisted the junior coalition party’s plans for a mansion tax would do little to balance the books and they would have to use other hikes to make up the shortfall.
“It’s hard to work out exactly what they [the Lib Dems] think,” Mr Osborne told a Sunday newspaper.
“While they sign up to deficit reduction, they want more tax rises rather than spending cuts.
“But they shouldn’t pretend to people that the sums required can be achieved by their homes tax alone. If you want higher taxes to do the heavy lifting, you’d also need to increase taxes like income tax or national insurance.
“The battle lines for the general election have been drawn this week.
“There’s a clear choice: a competent plan to stay on course to prosperity with us or a return to economic chaos with all the alternatives.”
Labour’s Chuka Umunna described the coalition as a “heartless and hopeless government” that is “pulling the rug from under people” with deep cuts to public services.
The shadow business secretary said Labour would take “tough decisions” to bring the nation’s debt and deficit down, but said he could not produce a 2015 Budget to show exactly where cuts would fall.
But the Labour MP did acknowledge the need to restore the public finances to health, describing the size of Britain’s debt repayments as an “outrage”.
Mr Umunna said: “What we have seen here is a heartless and hopeless government.
“Hopeless because they have fundamentally failed to meet their deficit and debt targets and frankly heartless because they view a conception of the state that we have not seen since the 1930s, which involves pulling the rug from under people instead of empowering them to meet their dreams and aspirations.”
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