By Paul Goodman
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Conservative activists have failed to rally behind the deficit reduction strategy of George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as they gather for their annual conference in Manchester. A poll of almost 1400 members for ConservativeHome found that over 50 per cent believe that his spending scaleback should be faster and deeper.
The poll will be seen as a rebuff to the Chancellor, who told the Daily Telegraph this morning that tax cuts are unlikely before the next election. 42 per cent of those polled believe that spending rises should be cut back further to cut taxes, while 10 per cent hold that they should have happened to prevent taxes from rising.
Two out of every five activists are thus lined up behind tax cuts, the same proportion as those who back Osborne's strategy as "exactly right". Under one in ten agree with Labour's view that "cuts are happening too quickly and are endangering growth". His growth strategy was also criticised this morning by Andrew Tyrie, the Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee.
But in a series of interviews this morning, the Chancellor moved to counter his critics. Osborne said that the Government will stop workers from claiming unfair dismissal during their first two years at a company, and will halve the number of full-time union officials working in the civil service.
David Cameron separately committed the Government to further corporation tax cuts. However, the Chancellor failed to rule out a mansion tax, a measure long pushed by Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, and indicated that an overall reduction in the taxes before the next election is unlikely, warning that "tax cuts should be for life not just for Christmas".
Speaking ahead of the publication of a report he has written for the Centre for Policy Studies, Tyrie, the Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, suggested that the Chancellor's growth strategy is "incoherent and inconsistent", and said that some of the Government's "piecemeal policies" need "radical improvement".
“A coherent and credible plan for the long-term economic growth rate of the UK economy is needed," he said. "The Big Society; localism; the green strategy – whether right or wrong; these and other initiatives have seemed at best irrelevant to the task in hand, if not downright contradictory to it; likewise the huge spending hike on overseas aid and the cost of the Libyan expedition.”
John Redwood said this afternoon that Tyrie "speaks for a lot of Conservatives" but added "I don't think most of us are using the same language". He said: "There are many people who would like competitive tax rates on earning and striving and saving. We think the tax rates are too high to the point where they are collecting less revenue than if we had more competitive rates.
"There are many Conservatives who think that dear energy is an own goal and will do damage to the British economy. The Prime Minister has responded to Tyrie by claiming that the Government has "an incredibly active growth strategy. First of all we’ve got to deal with the debt and the deficit, but we are doing things to cut corporation tax, to help small businesses, to deregulate, to make it easier to employ people."