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Labour attacks Coalition Budget U-turns

LABOUR last night lashed out at the Coalition Government's "shambolic" Budget U-turns as a poll showed 73% of British voters think the country is moving in the wrong direction.

The survey came after ministers, while the Commons was still in recess, last week announced a series of reversals to the so-called caravan, pasty and charity taxes, admitting they had got things wrong.

Having been deprived of the opportunity to hold the Government to account, Labour successfully called David Gauke, the Treasury Minister, to the despatch box to answer questions.

Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, accused the Coalition of "sneaking out" policy changes to a "total and utter shambles of a Budget".

She told MPs: "This is a Government that does not like to be held to account for its mistakes."

Noting the Coalition had tried to make a virtue of its U-turns, Ms Reeves said: "Failing to do the necessary work on a policy before announcing it, then sneaking out a reversal when you hope no-one is looking is not consultation, it's total incompetence."

Mr Gauke heavily downplayed the controversy, pointing out that of the 282 measures featured in the spring Budget only three had been scrapped. "These changes are small in the context of a Budget that lowered for 24 million people tax by £170. The amounts concerned are tiny compared to the total tax changes announced in the Budget; in monetary terms less than 2% of the Budget changes and 0.0002% of total receipts.

"The Budget continues to have a neutral impact on the public finances and we remain on track to tackle the unprecedented debt and deficit we inherited," he added.

The Exchequer Secretary accused Labour of "always believing there is a magic money tree" and said the Government was forced to raise cash because of the record deficit left by Labour.

Tory right-winger Peter Bone said the Government should not apologise for doing the U-turns, claiming this was parliamentary democracy at work.

His Conservative colleague Tony Baldry asked: "Wouldn't it have been rather better if the Opposition simply just said thank-you and sat down?"

However, Labour's Andrew Gwynne said given so much had been changed in "this disastrous Budget, one wonders what's next". He urged the Government to rethink its 50p rate tax cut.

Meanwhile, the poll, commissioned by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), across the members of the G20 shows Britons are the most pessimistic about the prospects for their economy. Ahead of next week's international summit in Mexico, it shows 93% of UK respondents fear their children's generation will be worse off than their own.

Despite the crisis in the eurozone, voters in the EU have a less pessimistic view of the state of the economy, with 56% saying their country is heading in the wrong direction and 65% saying future generations will be less wealthy than this one.

The survey of more than 13,000 people across several countries including the UK, US, Brazil, Greece, Japan, Belgium and Bulgaria, also finds 49% of Britons believe the threat of unemployment has risen over the past two years compared to 35% in the G20 and 31% in the EU.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said: "Global economic orthodoxy is widely rejected by the populace, and this upswell of anti-government and anti-austerity opinion across so many nations should cause urgent re-thinking at the global level."

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