Polls Show Brown Losing Spending Debate

(Reuters) – TWO OPINION POLLS said today that voters trust the Conservative Party with public services more than the Labour Party, dealing a further blow to Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Already behind in opinion polls, Brown has promoted Labour as being the best protector of public services, accusing the Conservatives of wanting to slash public spending.

A YouGov poll for the Policy Exchange think-tank, published in the News of the World, showed 29% of people trusted the Tories most to deliver value on public services, compared with 19% who favoured Labour.

The poll also found that 26% trusted the Conservatives most to provide the best quality public services, compared with 23% for Labour.

Public spending is to be a key electoral battleground before the next general election, which must be called before June.

Conservative leader David Cameron has said Britain’s record level of borrowing during the recession meant the government was running the risk of defaulting on its debt.

His party has said health and international development spending should be protected, but warned cuts will be necessary to reassure international markets.

Government borrowing is forecast to hit a record £175 billion this fiscal year, more than 12% of GDP.

In a separate Sunday Times/YouGov poll, more voters want to cut public spending rather than raise taxes.

Sixty percent want to shrink the size of the state to curb the deficit, with just 21% preferring higher taxes.

The government has already said it plans a new, high rate of income tax of 50% on those earning more than £150,000 a year. Brown is to tell trade union members on Tuesday that tough choices lie ahead.

‘We have to make tough choices in public spending and we will need the support of the labour movement in protecting the front line first,’ he said in an extract of his speech released on Sunday.

But neither Labour nor the Conservatives have given details of where the axe will fall.

Philip Hammond, the Conservative Treasury spokesman, told Sky TV that cuts need to begin in 2010.

‘We think we need to make a start in 2010, to rein back public spending to drive some of the inefficiencies out of public service delivery in order to maintain low interest rates well into this recovery and to support businesses and families.’

Brown was ahead in the polls for several month after replacing Tony Blair as prime minister in June 2007, winning praise for his early handling of the global economic crisis.

But he fell behind the Conservatives after a series of setbacks, including challenges to his leadership, accusations of a clumsy personal and leadership style, ministerial resignations and a scandal over lawmakers’ expenses.

The recession, public finances, rising casualties in Afghanistan and Britain’s role in the release of the Lockerbie bomber have dominated the political agenda in recent months.

The Sunday Times/YouGov poll showed that despite signs of economic recovery, Labour appears to have failed to capitalise.

Labour, with 27% of the vote, still trails the Conservatives on 41% by 14 points — the same as last month. The Liberal Democrats are on 17%.

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