Gordon Brown was facing the first serious test of his
political authority yesterday when a senior minister
attacked his plans to raise alcohol duty in the budget
and he was forced to respond to a tax revolt by backbench
To defuse escalating concern over the centrepiece of
his final budget as chancellor, Brown's whips promised
to look again at claims that 5 million poorer households
were being hurt by the abolition of the 10p income tax
A group of normally loyal backbenchers had tabled an
early day motion criticising the impact of the abolition
and rejecting assurances given by ministers about its
After a frantic day of arm-twisting, the sponsor of
the motion, Greg Pope, himself a former whip, withdrew
it saying: "I have been given assurances by senior ministers
that they will look at its impact, especially on pensioners,
some of whom are losing more than £200 at a time of
rising fuel costs".
Pope said he could have won the support of 100 backbenchers
if he had not withdrawn.
The signs of unease, just weeks before local elections
on May 1, reflected concern among Labour MPs that the
government cannot afford to appear out of touch as voters
face economic distress for the first time in a decade.
Some MPs were furious with Brown this week, believing
he had not been listening to the concerns they were
picking up on the doorstep about the cost of living.
Even ministers close to the prime minister accept they
are in difficulty and need a clearer message about fairness.
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