Simmering tensions at the heart of David Davis’s campaign for the Conservative leadership have been laid bare after one of his lieutenants refused to sign up to the details of his tax pledge.
David Willetts, one of Mr Davis’s highest profile backers, told the Financial Times that although he believed in lower taxes, he could not commit to the details of the policy now.
Mr Davis has attempted to expose his rival David Cameron’s lack of policies by coming up with detailed plans on tax and education. However, although he made up some lost ground against Mr Cameron after a strong performance in Thursday’s television debate, Mr Willetts’s comments highlight uncertainties about Mr Davis’s campaign.
Mr Willetts said: “I am committed to David Davis and I am a believer in bringing down the burden of tax. But nobody can commit themselves in detail to every specific thing that a leadership candidate says . . . As to the exact details of policy those are things we are going to have to argue about in shadow cabinet in the months and years ahead.”
Mr Willetts, a leading moderniser surprised many MPs in September when he de-clared his support for Mr Davis. The move gave the then leadership favourite a significant boost, and Mr Willetts was rewarded with a high-profile role in the campaign.
However, there has been increasingly speculation that Mr Willetts is unhappy with the Davis campaign following the candidate’s promise last month to cut the tax bill of the average family by £1,200 a year by 2015.
Mr Davis was ridiculed by his opponents for making such detailed commitments without knowing the state of the public finances.
Mr Cameron was himself under pressure yesterday after his views on drugs again triggered controversy. During Thursday’s head-to-head debate with Mr Davis on the BBC’s Question Time programme, Mr Cameron, now the clear leadership favourite, called for ecstasy to be switched from a class A to a class B drug.
Charles Clarke, home secretary, last night branded the comments “irresponsible”, and Mr Cameron’s aides appeared to be beating a retreat, saying that drugs policy would be “a matter for the party to decide” if he became leader.
In the Question Time debate, Mr Cameron, who has denied taking class A substances as an MP but has refused to comment on his drugs use before then, said it was important that drug classifications were “credible” to young people.
“I had a concern that if you put ecstasy and heroin in the same classification, people just don’t take it seriously,” he said.
However, Mr Clarke re-torted: “Ecstasy can and does kill unpredictably and there is no such thing as a safe dose. There is still a lot to learn about the harm ecstasy causes and I believe it would be irresponsible to consider reclassification.”
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