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UK's Osborne hails growing economy, slams 'disastrous' Labour plans

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne leaves number 11 Downing Street in London September 4, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Winning
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne leaves number 11 Downing Street in London September 4, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

By Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's finance minister George Osborne will declare on Monday that an accelerating economy vindicates his austerity program and accuse his political opponents of promising a "disastrous" change of course.

Breaking his silence on the signs of a revival, Osborne will argue that a run of strong figures suggests the government has won the economic argument, having ignored opposition Labour calls to cut more slowly.

With an eye on the next election in 2015, Osborne will acknowledge the challenge of reviving living standards - an issue taken up by Labour - while stressing that the recovery could slide "back to square one" if Britain borrowed more.

"Amazingly, even with the evidence we now have, there are still those calling for the government to abandon its economic plan in order to spend and borrow more. But to do so would be disastrous," Osborne will say, according to extracts of a planned speech on the British economy released by his office in advance.

Labour dismissed Osborne's comments as an attempt to "rewrite history" and said his policies had stifled growth for three years.

Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives came to power in 2010 in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, promising to cut public spending, reduce a record budget deficit and rebuild an economy battered by the global financial crisis.

Osborne's policies came under intense pressure as Britain's economy struggled for three years and he faced calls in April from the International Monetary Fund to speed up spending. But a surprisingly strong run of business surveys and data in recent weeks suggests Britain's economy is "turning the corner", Osborne will say, although fixing the budget is far from done.

"More tough choices will be required after the next election to find many billions of further savings and anyone who thinks those decisions can be ducked is not fit for government."

Labour has a narrow lead over Cameron's Conservatives in most polls. However, Labour leader Ed Miliband and his would-be finance minister Ed Balls trail Cameron and Osborne when voters are asked who they trust to handle the economy.

Center-left Labour, which held power from 1997 to 2010, saw its economic credibility undermined by the financial crisis.

WRONG SORT OF GROWTH?

In his speech, Osborne will argue that Britain's slow growth since the financial crisis was not due to his policies and will seek to press his advantage over Labour by declaring that "those in favor of a Plan B have lost the argument".

He will also reject claims that Britain is seeing "the wrong sort of growth", based on unsustainable debt.

"The evidence suggests tentative signs of a balanced, broad-based and sustainable recovery," Osborne will say, adding that he would be vigilant to risks, including a premature tightening of financial conditions as market interest rates rise.

Labour finance spokesman Chris Leslie accused Osborne of presiding over "three years of flatlining" that hurt families.

"This desperate attempt to rewrite history will not wash when, on every test he set himself, this chancellor's plan A has badly failed - on living standards, growth and the deficit," he said.

As the parties prepare for their annual conferences later this month, Labour's attacks on Cameron's Conservatives will center on the charge that the recovery has left behind people who are less well off.

"This is a recovery for the few. This is an unfair recovery. This is an unequal recovery," Miliband will say in a speech on Tuesday.

(Editing by William Schomberg; desking by Christopher Wilson)

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