MP calls for freeze in spending, and gives cold shoulder to leadership bid
NORTH Somerset MP Dr Liam Fox says his call for a five-year public spending freeze is not an attempt to position himself to challenge the Prime Minister for the party leadership.
In a central London speech Dr Fox urged ministers to use the savings to cut taxes and the deficit, while also ending "ring fencing" of budgets such as health.
The Prime Minister gave the comments short shrift saying he was "never short of advice" and promised not to cut NHS spending.
Business Secretary Vince Cable also said Dr Fox's plan, which some commentators had interpreted as a rallying call to the Tory right ahead of a possible future leadership challenge, represented a "jihad" against public spending.
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The former Defence Secretary Dr Fox is the latest senior figure to urge a rethink of Coalition economic strategy.
It is at odds with calls for more investment in infrastructure projects to boost growth.
At present certain budgets, such as health, schools and international development, are protected from spending cuts, which Dr Fox said should end.
Speaking at the Institute of Economic Affairs think tank, he said: "Because we are over-taxed, over-regulated and we spend and borrow too much. I believe that we should aim to freeze public spending for at least three years and probably more."
But he rejected suggestions his speech amounted to a bid for the Tory leadership.
After the speech, he said: "I begin to wonder whether any of us can say anything about policy without it being interpreted by the media as something to do with a future, not yet declared leadership election."
Dr Fox, who ran for the Conservative Party leadership in 2005, said there was "no chance" of a challenge to David Cameron before the next election, as such a move would be "absolute madness".
Tim Montgomerie, who edits the ConservativeHome website, told The Post: "It must be possible for thoughtful Conservatives like Liam Fox to talk about big issues like the economy without people interpreting their contributions as leadership bids.
"People urge MPs to speak their minds but when they do they are accused of plotting or political positioning. They can't win."
Dr Fox's speech comes just over a week before the next Budget.
Speaking during a visit to Milton Keynes to launch National Apprenticeship Week, David Cameron said: "As Prime Minister I'm never short of advice."
He added that his Government faced "difficult decisions" over departmental spending and it was "absolutely right that we have got a plan to get on top of our deficit".