Parties clash over jobs tax

GORDON Brown was mauled over his plans to hike National Insurance yesterday, as the “tax on jobs” dominated the second day of the general election campaign.

David Cameron used the last session of Prime Minister’s Questions to hit out at Brown, who earlier said the Tories had “deceived” business leaders into supporting their plan to scrap part of the hike.

Amid hoots of support from Conservative backbenchers, the Tory leader asked: “Is the Prime Minister really telling us that he knows more about job creation than business leaders who employ almost a million people in this country?”

And he hit out at suggestions that Diageo boss Paul Walsh had only supported the campaign because he was a Tory, quipping: “No, not a Tory – one of [Brown’s] advisers. He’s probably a Tory now – so are half the country.”

The rowdy scenes in the House of Commons came on a bad day for Labour, with a further 30 business leaders adding their names to a letter supporting Tory plans to scrap the hike for 70 per cent of workers.

Last night, Sir Bill Castell, the head of the Wellcome Trust and a one-time Brown adviser, also signed the letter, bringing the total number of signatories to 69.

Captains of industry reacted angrily to the suggestion they had been hoodwinked by the Tories, with Luke Johnson, the serial entrepreneur behind Pizza Express telling City A.M. that Brown’s comments were “insulting” and “patronising”.

The Tories are riding high on the popularity of the proposed tax cut, which appears to have halted the narrowing in their opinion poll lead. One shadow minister told City A.M. that George Osborne, the architect of the party’s National Insurance policy, had “finally found his groove”.

Brown attempted to move the debate away from the “tax on jobs” by promising to keep the basic rate of income tax at 20p. “The income tax rate has come down from 23p to 20p and we have kept it a 20p and that is what we will pledge to do in our manifesto,” he said.