Leadership candidates 'should give up payouts'

TORY Party chairman Baroness Warsi yesterday challenged the Labour leadership contenders to give up their severance pay for losing their ministerial jobs.

Appearing at a joint news conference with the Lib Dem Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, Lady Warsi said former Labour ministers needed to take responsibility for their part in creating the current economic crisis.

"At a time when people across the country are being asked to tighten their belts to deal with Labour's economic mess, it is unacceptable that the very people responsible for the mess are eligible to walk away with up to 20,000 each," she said.

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"Forfeiting this pay would be the first step towards accepting their responsibility, and the first sign they had come to terms with the mistakes of the past."

Lady Warsi said that she was writing to the four contenders who were members of the last government - David Miliband, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham - urging them, and any former ministers supporting them, to give up their severance pay.

Under current legislation, former ministers are entitled to a one-off, tax-free payment of a quarter of their annual ministerial salary on losing office. For former cabinet ministers - who received 79,754 a year ministerial pay on top of their MP's salary of 64,766 - the payments are worth 19,938.

At the news conference both Lady Warsi and Mr Huhne accused the Labour contenders of being "in denial" about the current economic crisis.

Mr Huhne said: "In 1979, the winter of discontent saw Labour lose power for a generation because Labour would not face up to the need for change. Unless Labour now face up to the challenge of fixing our nation's finances, they won't deserve power for another generation."

A Labour spokesman said: "This is a pathetic attempt by the coalition to create a smokescreen around today's serious economic issues."