UK Politics

Cable: Tories would destroy public services

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Media captionVince Cable: "We're not veering off to the kind of extreme ideology that the Tories seem to want."

Conservative spending plans would "destroy public services in the way that we know them" if they were to win a majority, Vince Cable has said.

The Lib Dem business secretary told the BBC Tories had been kept on a "tight leash" in coalition but were now "getting into all kinds of extremes".

He suggested the armed forces would be "largely ceremonial" after Tory cuts.

Chancellor George Osborne claims the Lib Dems plan "hefty income tax rises" and would cause "economic chaos" alone.

The two coalition parties have been stressing their different approaches to reducing the deficit and managing the economy after next year's general election.

Forecasters predict public spending will fall to levels not seen since the 1930s, suggesting the loss of one million public sector jobs by 2020.

'Really worry'

In an interview with BBC One's Andrew Marr Show, Mr Cable said he would "really worry" if Conservative Chancellor George Osborne's future spending plans were realised.

He said information in the Autumn Statement suggested that Home Office spending, including on police officers, could be roughly halved.

He said on defence "our armed forces would become largely ceremonial" and local government spending - on issues like social care - could be almost halved.

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Media captionGeorge Osborne: "This is about continuing the plan I have set out over many years".

"It would be devastating, it would be ideologically driven and I would be very strongly opposed to it," he said.

He said there was some "common ground" between the coalition parties on restructuring the economy - as there was with Labour - to avoid "short term credit bubbles".

But he said that the speed and scale of future spending cuts outlined in the Autumn Statement "were not signed off" by Lib Dem Deputy PM Nick Clegg and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander.

"There are big differences in the way in which we approach this deficit reduction."

'Well behaved'

He told the BBC the Conservatives would "destroy public services in the way that we know them". The Lib Dems had a plan to keep to financial discipline with a "different mixture of tax and spending reduction".

"We've actually worked well in turning the country around. While we've been in coalition we have kept the Tories on quite a tight leash and they have been well behaved in a coalition.

"But now they have been let off the leash and confronting the possibility of majority government we are getting into all kinds of extremes."

Mr Osborne has suggested that, under Lib Dem plans income tax or National Insurance would have to rise to cut the deficit and electing either a Labour or Lib Dem government would mean a "return to economic chaos".

He told BBC Radio 5 live's Pienaar's Politics on Sunday that he wanted to keep at the same pace of deficit reduction to "deliver greater economic security".

He said there was "nothing arbitrary" about his timetable for dealing with the deficit: "I think the prudent and sensible thing to do when your economy is growing, when things are on course, is to get on top of your problems so you are prepared for the future. This is precisely what should have happened a decade ago and didn't happen. "

Labour's shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie questioned why the chancellor had not set out details of how he would enshrine in law a commitment to eliminate the deficit on day-to-day spending by government departments by 2017-18.

The announcement in the Autumn Statement was a "Tory trap" for Labour that was now "a shambles", he said.

All three of the main Westminster parties face criticism of not being clear with voters about how they would reduce borrowing by closing the gap between tax revenues and spending in the next Parliament.

Lib Dem MP and Deputy Commons Leader Tom Brake told BBC Radio 5 live's Pienaar's Politics it would be "extremely difficult" for any party to be elected, if they were to set out now every spending cut necessary to eliminate the deficit by 2017/18.