HEAVEN help us when the date of the General Election is finally called. Even before we have an official date, the parties are falling over themselves to out-promise each other.

It was Michael Howard's turn yesterday, revealing that he can perform miracles. Not only will he cut taxes, but he will carry on with Labour's level of spending on core public services, including health and education, as well as increasing investment in defence, the police and pensions.

It will all be paid for by saving £35 billion in waste, bureaucracy and the civil service. That's an awful lot of red tape.

The Tory leader, of course, has to come up with something big very big if he is to make serious inroads into Labour's lead. So why not go the whole hog tell voters they will get everything under a Conservative government

The problem for Mr Howard is the same problem facing every politician standing for election: no-one really believes anything they say anymore.

Tony Blair faces a huge issue of trust when he makes his promises for a third term because whatever the denials, the general perception in the country is that the tuition fees issue was a memorable example of manifesto pledges becoming meaningless.

And with scepticism over politicians being at an all-time high, Mr Howard will find it incredibly difficult to persuade people that he will be able to find sufficient savings to be able to deliver better public services while cutting taxes.