, LONDON, Apr 8 – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown laid into the opposition Conservatives Thursday for their "back-of-envelope" plans on tax and spending, stepping up personal attacks ahead of the May 6 election.
The Labour government lined up its most senior ministers to defend plans to raise payroll taxes after the vote, claiming Conservative proposals to scrap the increase would put public services and the economy at risk.
"Do the British people really want to gamble your economic future on the basis of a back-of-envelope set of calculations like this?" Brown said.
Conservative leader David Cameron dismissed the attack, citing more than 70 business chiefs who agreed that raising National Insurance (NI) was a "tax on jobs".
He said Labour was looking "very rattled, very worried that they\’re losing the argument… and their campaign is very much falling apart."
The economy has dominated the first week of campaigning, as the centre-left Labour government argue they have steered Britain through the recession and the centre-right Conservatives insist only they can secure recovery.
The row over NI, a tax paid by employees and employers which builds up entitlement to certain benefits, has highlighted the striking differences between the two parties\’ approach.
At a press conference in London, Brown launched a concerted attack on the Conservative position with the support of Finance Minister Alistair Darling and Business Secretary Peter Mandelson.
Darling accused Conservative finance spokesman George Osborne of "reckless opportunism" in opposing the tax hike, saying it was at odds with a previous pledge to focus on cutting Britain\’s record deficit.
Labour reject the Conservatives\’ claim that the money for the tax hike could be found elsewhere, through slashing government waste, and say the inevitable outcome would be a cut in public services.
Across town at the launch of Conservative plans for a new national citizenship programme for young people, attended and supported by actor Michael Caine, Cameron cited all the business leaders who agreed with him.
The executive chairman of British retail giant Marks and Spencer, Stuart Rose, attacked Brown Thursday for dismissing their concerns.
"This is an important argument and to insult the collective intelligence of 60-plus chief executives is unhelpful," Rose told BBC radio.
Cameron told reporters: "On the big economic question — how do we secure recovery — the business leaders are saying the threat to the recovery is not cutting waste, the threat to the recovery is the jobs\’ tax."
Labour is fighting for a historic fourth term in office and has managed to close the once gaping lead held by the Conservatives in the past few weeks.
But two new polls Thursday supported predictions that neither Labour nor the Conservatives will win a parliamentary majority, instead producing what is known as a hung parliament.
The Populus survey for The Times newspaper put the Tories on 39 percent, Labour on 32 percent and the third-largest party, the Liberal Democrats, on 21 percent.
A YouGov daily poll for the Sun meanwhile put the Conservatives on 37 percent, Labour on 32 percent and the Liberal Democrats on 19 percent.
In a further attempt to win the economic argument, Labour has promised to hold the basic rate of tax on workers\’ income after the election.
"The income tax rate has come down from 23 pence (35 dollars cents, 26 euro cents) and we have kept it at 20 pence and that is what we will pledge to do in our manifesto," Brown told Channel 4 television news Wednesday.