Apr 8 2010 by David Williamson, Western Mail
TORY leader David Cameron arrived in Cardiff last night and pledged to make the Welsh dragon “breathe some fire”.
Within minutes of getting out of the election battle bus he launched a fierce attack on Labour’s plan for a rise in National Insurance.
Declaring it “just about the craziest thing you could do”, he declared: “I believe this is a jobs tax. I think this is a huge mistake.
“If you are trying to get an economy to recover the worst thing you can do is to tax every additional job.”
The Conservative leader insisted the “economy is the absolutely key issue in this election” and before a small audience of local business people in a Cardiff cash-and-carry he presented his vision for Wales’ future. As part of that vision he argued for the return of coal mining to the UK.
He said: “We still have coal that we can mine. We have coal-fired power stations we can build.
“And with carbon capture and storage we can take the carbon dioxide out of that coal and we have the North Sea where we can store it. We should be world leaders in this technology and then selling it and licensing it around the world.”
Mr Cameron said the logic behind the proposed Defence Training College in the Vale of Glamorgan was “right” but a strategic defence review must be held first.
The visit, coming just a day after the calling of the election, underscored Tory hopes of pushing the number of Welsh Conservative MPs beyond the present total of three out of 40.
Mr Cameron said: “Wales is very important to me. There has been quite a Conservative recovery in Wales over these last four years and I’m proud to have played, I hope, a small part in that.
“You saw it in the Assembly elections, you saw it in the European elections and now I want it to happen in the parliamentary elections. I think we’ve got some great candidates, we’ve got a very good machine. The dragon has awoken, as I’ve put it, and I want to make sure it’s breathing some fire.”
Mr Cameron did not directly address the unanimous vote by AMs to request a referendum on full law-making powers for the Assembly; nor did he confirm that an autumn vote could be facilitated.
He said: “If the Welsh Assembly votes for one we will have the referendum, we will name the date. We’re in slight abeyance at the moment as the election is taking place but people should be in doubt, if they want one they can have one but no-one has yet set a date for it.”
He also stated there were no plans to raise VAT.
“We’ve set our plans and they don’t involve increasing VAT,” he said. “We’ve said, ‘You know, here is the waste we’re going to find, here are the taxes that we’re not getting rid of – because we can’t get rid of all of Labour’s tax rises – but VAT isn’t part of our plans.”
But he was adamant that the national debt must be tackled, saying: “We all know from our own lives that if you have big outstanding debts the longer you put it off the worse it gets.”
Claiming Britain had to “grab this problem”, he said: “I think the danger is not doing something about the deficit. We’re borrowing 11% of our GDP this year.
“That’s about the same level as Greece. This is a problem level of borrowing and we think putting off the problem won’t help.
“So we say it’s right to make some reductions in wasteful spending in this coming year, in 2010, and we’ve set out how we’d do that.”
In a bid to present Labour as a party of tax rises, he said: “The Government’s plans involve people earning over £20,000 paying more in tax.
“Now, I don’t think people earning over £20,000 are rich. I don’t think those are the ones who should be bearing the biggest burden.”
Turning his fire on Labour by insisting the Government should not delay cuts to “waste”, Mr Cameron said: “The Government itself has identified £11bn of waste in our economy but they’ve said [they won’t] do anything about it until 2011.
“So they are wasting that money in 2010 and then putting up everyone’s taxes in 2011 to pay for it.
“But why should we have to pay higher taxes for Government waste?
“Why not cut out the waste now and stop the tax rises?”
He continued: “We think that this National Insurance rise they are proposing is an economy killer, is a recovery killer, is a jobs killer.”
Mr Cameron’s visit came at the end of a day of clashes on this subject.
More business leaders yesterday went public with their support for the Tory suggestion that the rise should be cancelled.
The new backers included Corus chief executive Kirby Adams, Northern Foods chief executive Stefan Barden, Reed Elsevier chairman Anthony Habgood and Jewson chief executive Peter Hindle.
Gordon Brown also said last night that Labour would not raise the basic rate of income tax if it won the General Election, promising to keep it at 20p in the pound. “The income tax rate has come down from 23p to 20p and we’ve kept it at 20p and that is what we will pledge to do in our manifesto,” Mr Brown told Channel 4 News.