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Philip Hammond has accused Labour of putting forward an array of uncosted policies that will lead to a tax and debt “bombshell” if the party wins the general election in June.
Echoing a Tory attack campaign from 1992, the chancellor told a press conference in central London that voting for Labour would be a “gamble” that would lead to more borrowing and be a “recipe for chaos, instability and insecurity”.
The economy had improved under the Tories, the chancellor argued, with the deficit cut by almost three-quarters and employment at its highest rate since the 1970s.
The Conservatives had rescued the country from the “danger zone”, he argued. “We are still dealing with the consequences of Labour’s recession,” he said. “Britain simply cannot take the risk of Jeremy Corbyn in Downing St.”
Criticism of Labour’s economic credibility is set to form a plank in the Tory election campaign, with opinion polls suggesting that the issue is a major weakness for Jeremy Corbyn’s party. That is despite the fact that – although the annual deficit has fallen in recent years – Britain’s total debts have nearly doubled since 2010. George Osborne, the former chancellor, repeatedly missed his targets for reducing the deficit to zero.
John McDonnell, shadow chancellor, criticised the BBC for earlier uncritically repeating what he described as Tory “lies” about his spending plans.
The Tory dossier claimed that there was a £45bn black hole in Labour’s policy platform – despite Jeremy Corbyn’s party having not yet released a full manifesto.
The Conservatives also launched an attack poster showing Jeremy Corbyn and a bomb behind his head with the slogan: “Corbyn: No Bombs For Our Army, One Big Bombshell For Your Family.”
The clear intention is to exacerbate doubts about Mr Corbyn’s economic credibility and his history of pacifism.
Mr McDonnell told BBC Today presenter Justin Webb that he was a “scallywag” for questioning him about the claims. “In common parlance people would call these, what the Tories have published today, lies, absolute lies. I am shocked the BBC has just taken a Conservative press release and has repeated it all morning,” the shadow chancellor said.
Mr McDonnell said the Conservatives appeared to be unfairly including £35bn of capital spending in their calculations.
The exchange came just hours after Diane Abbott, shadow home secretary, was widely criticised for a gaffe-laden interview in which she struggled to explain how a Labour government would pay for 10,000 extra police officers.
David Davis, Brexit secretary, said that Mr Corbyn’s “nonsensical and irresponsible ideas” posed a grave threat to the future of Britain’s economy. “His many, ill-thought-through promises simply don’t stack up and could not be paid for,” he said.
The “bombshell” campaign is reminiscent of 1992 when the Tories attacked the then Labour leader Neil Kinnock with a poster saying: “Labour’s tax bombshell, you’d pay £1,250 more tax a year under Labour.”
A Labour spokesman said the Tory “false claims” were not worth the paper they had been printed on.
The party has criticised the Conservatives for refusing to rule out potential increases in either income tax or National Insurance during the next Parliament.
Andrew Gwynne, the party’s elections co-ordinator, said the Tory campaign was all slogan and no substance. “Their claims are so flimsy that even the most cursory reading reveals error after error,” he said. “Claims that don’t add up, things they say are Labour policy which aren’t and blatant misrepresentation of policies which we have clearly set out how to pay for.”
The Tories had claimed that Labour’s plan to abolish maintenance loans, restore the education maintenance allowance and restore nurses’ bursaries were uncosted. In fact all would be paid for by reversing cuts to corporation tax.
Likewise Labour said the Tories were wrong to claim that Labour would “buy out” NHS PFI contracts. Instead the party’s policy is instead to commit to no further PFI contracts in future.