George Osborne’s post-election deficit reduction plans are a “suicide note” for the Tories - the Chancellor’s former Liberal Democrat deputy David Laws said.
In the latest skirmish of the governing coalition parties’ battle to offer voters a distinct pitch at the ballot box in May, the Schools Minister said the scale of proposed austerity was a “huge policy and strategic blunder”.
Mr Laws - who as chief secretary in 2010 was a keen enforcer of deep spending cuts - spoke out a week after his successor in the role Danny Alexander accused Mr Osborne of seeking the “wilful destruction” of public services.
They are the latest of a string of senior Lib Dems to warn of dire consequences for the UK if the Conservatives are allowed to implement proposals to go beyond balancing the books to running a surplus and making tax cuts.
“It is easy to talk about balancing the books by cutting spending and not raising people’s taxes and of course that sounds popular,” Mr Laws told the Sunday Times.
“But when you look at what the consequences are for the armed forces, police and education you realise it is a very extreme, right-wing strategy that may appeal to marginal, Tory-Ukip swing voters but will not appeal to the majority of people who vote Conservative in my constituency.”
He went on: “This will be seen to be a very extreme and very right-wing suicide note because all those people who care about the education service, about the police, about the armed forces ... will see that the plans they have put forward are hugely damaging and dangerous.”
It was taken as a nod to Michael Foot’s 1983 left-wing Labour manifesto which was ridiculed by then shadow minister Gerald Kaufman as “the longest suicide note in history”.
“In order to deliver this scale of savings you are talking about having to find cuts in the unprotected budget of around a quarter in the next parliament,” Mr Laws said.
That would require welfare cuts on a scale that “would hugely increase the levels of poverty in the country”.
The Yeovil MP said the plan “has been cobbled together on the back of a fag packet” in a bid to counter the public appeal of Ukip.