UK Conservatives to unveil tax pledges ahead of possible poll

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BLACKPOOL, Oct 1 (Reuters) The Conservatives will unveil a series of tax-cutting pledges today as the opposition party scrambles to prepare for a possible snap election.

The party, meeting in Blackpool for its annual conference, is trailing badly in the polls, with one survey over the weekend putting it 11 points behind Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour Party.

Brown is expected to wait until after the end of the Conservative conference before making an election decision.

A strong performance by Tory leader David Cameron during the week, with a subsequent rise in his party's rating, could be enough to dissuade Brown from playing the early election card.

Conservative Treasury spokesman George Osborne is expected to unveil plans to cut inheritance tax and to spell out how he plans to afford a promised 400 million pound cut in stamp duty on homes costing up to 250,000 pounds for first-time buyers.

Rising house prices have pushed many homes in the south east above the 285,000 pound inheritance tax threshold, at the same time as pricing many young people out of the property market.

The threat of an October or November election has forced the Conservatives to accelerate their detailed policy review, which has seen them spend the last 18 months studying six areas including the environment, social justice and taxation.

In the place of further consultation, the party is rushing out policy decisions from these reviews during its four-day conference.

Cameron has already confirmed the party will not be adopting two unpopular proposals from its environmental review -- a tax on individuals flying and higher charges for shoppers using supermarket car parks.

Today Higher Education spokesman David Willetts will announce proposals to tackle the compensation culture to reverse a decline in schools taking children on sporting and outdoor activities.

Those trying to sue teachers for negligence after an accident would have to show there had been ''reckless disregard'' of obvious risks, copying legislation already in place in Western Australia.

Education spokesman Michael Gove will unveil plans to extend the government's Academy schools programme to make it easier for charities, churches and voluntary groups to set up new, independent, state-funded schools.

Parents would have the right to demand funds from local authorities to establish and run these so-called Pioneer schools, which would be free from local authority control and set their own teacher pay rates and curriculum.

Reuters MP VP0625

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