LONDON (Reuters) - Ed Miliband, leader of Britain's opposition Labour party, will seek to rally support for his economic policy five months before a national election by portraying planned Conservative spending cuts as "extreme" and driven by a heartless ideology.
Neck-and-neck in opinion polls with Prime Minister David Cameron's right-leaning Conservatives, Labour's economic competence rating is sharply lower, with rivals often telling voters the party mishandled the 2008 financial crisis and left behind the biggest peacetime deficit since World War Two.
If the left-wing party won power again, it would borrow and spend and rack up more debts, they say.
On Thursday, Miliband will seek to change that narrative in a speech which seizes on disquiet at the scale of spending cuts set out last week by Conservative finance minister George Osborne.
Official forecasts showed state spending could fall to its lowest level since the 1930s under the plans to eliminate the budget deficit by 2018/19 by cutting spending without raising taxes.
"They have finally been exposed ... for what they really are: not modern compassionate Conservatives at all but extreme and ideological, committed to a dramatic shrinking of the state and public services," Miliband will say, according to advance extracts.
"They are doing it, not because they have to do it, but because they want to," he will say, adding that public services would disintegrate under such a scenario and there would be a permanent cost of living crisis.
Miliband's intervention comes as Cameron tries to refocus debate on the economy away from immigration, with Britain facing up to five more years of fiscal consolidation to close a 5 percent budget deficit and start reducing a 1.4 trillion pound ($2.20 trillion) national debt.
Osborne came under pressure after a think-tank said the scale of his proposed cuts could radically alter the state's size.
A ComRes poll for ITV News on Wednesday showed 33 percent of voters thought that cutting spending to 1930s levels was a good thing; 26 percent were against the idea.
However, the poll also showed 52 percent backing a slower pace of cuts.
Miliband will seek to cash in on divided public opinion by casting his previously-announced austerity plan, which aims to balance the country's books at a slower pace and use tax rises to mitigate the need for spending cuts, as a fairer approach.
In response to the speech, Business Minister Matt Hancock said Labour would continue to amass debt. "This risk to the economic recovery is exactly why Ed Miliband simply isn’t up to the job," he said.
($1 = 0.6373 pounds)
Editing by Andrew Osborn