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Starting gun fired in 2015 Westminster race with a sweetener for grey vote

THE 2015 General Election campaign has begun.

At the weekend, David Cameron insisted he was doing the "right thing" to protect the state pensions of those Britons who had worked hard all of their lives.

Of course, by happy coincidence, the over-60s proportionately vote more than anybody else; no one should underestimate the power of the grey vote. Clearly, the Prime Minister does not.

And then, yesterday, George Osborne - on the back of all the rosy snapshots of a UK in full recovery mode - took the first opportunity of 2014 to make a New Year's resolution; pointing out how we were still in the middle of the age of austerity, he said more public spending cuts had to be identified; all £25 billion of them.

This comes on top of the £17bn of cuts in this coming year and £20bn next year; meaning over four years we face a not insubstantial snip of £62bn.

Politically, the Chancellor's aim was to create a line of division, shove the spotlight onto his political opponents and ask what they would do to reduce the UK's mighty deficit, which this year is, at £96bn, predicted to be still more than half what it was when the Coalition came to power.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg huffed that the Tories were committed to paring back the state remorselessly for ideological reasons and accused them of targeting the working poor; the LibDems want to target the well-off with a mansion tax.

Ed Balls, meantime, questioned the £25bn figure and insisted a Labour government would "get the deficit down in a fair way" by growing the economy to produce higher living standards for all.

Yet there are still gaps in all the parties' approaches. Removing housing benefit from under 25s and stopping the better off from getting council homes, as Mr Osborne suggested, would only raise a fraction of the £25bn as would the LibDems' mansion tax, now supported by Labour.

Could the Tories consider the far more controversial policy of cutting housing benefit per se or any of the employment allowances, which would make much deeper cuts into the welfare budget?

Later this year, Conservative high command will seek to put Ed Miliband on the spot when there will be a vote on the Coalition's deficit reduction strategy.

If, as is thought, Labour rejects it, then it will be accused of either having no credible plan to balance the nation's books or having a secret one to hike taxes post the election.

Things can only get bitter.

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Local government

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