by Peter Watt
I can’t tell you how this came into my possession but the following memo was found on a photocopier in Westminster yesterday. The send field was hidden.*
To: Rt Hon George George Osborne
STRICTLY PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL
Turning around our current polling situation
George, as you know the Labour party think that they have the next election in the bag. They think that the public have pretty much decided that the government is a busted flush. They think that what has undoubtedly been a pretty appalling year for us has sealed our fate. Privately they accept that Miliband has a way to go before he’s seen as a prime minister but think that our self-inflicted wounds (if we are honest, our incompetence and successive blunders) will mean that he is given an easy ride through to the election. And that ultimately our unpopularity will overcome his shortcomings in the minds of voters. But as I have said to you, I actually think that not only are they wrong, their confidence in the face of their substantial poll leads will prove to be their undoing.
In essence I think that that whilst the Labour party undoubtedly has a lead at this stage, its position is exaggerated by the positions of the Lib Dems and UKIP. It is virtually certain that the Lib Dems will rise in the polls before the election and in all likelihood will poll in the high teens on election day. Equally, whilst Farage and co might do well through to the Euros they will fall away as we near the election. If both of these are correct then the true polling position is considerably closer. In other words the Labour lead can be overcome. Of course, that does not mean that we do not need to regroup and fast.
You asked for my thoughts as to how we might achieve this. Let me first of all say that we need to resist the temptation to appease some of our “fringe.” That would be easy but would ultimately be fatal. Instead we must relentlessly focus on those in work (or who are looking to get back into work) but who are finding life a bit tough. They want to get on, they want to do well by their families and they play by the rules. They agree that the deficit needs to come to down and accept that this will need some sacrifices to be made. The trouble is that a fair old number of them aren’t sure that anyone is on their side and feel that they are making a bigger sacrifice than most. And this is where, if you are brave and bold, you can deliver a victory in May 2015. I suggest that your forthcoming statement is the moment to focus on substantially easing the lot of working families. In your statement you should announce:
- You will be aiming to put money back in the pockets of taxpayers. That any reductions in tax take will be offset by further cuts in overall levels of public spending and in particular cuts in the welfare budget. IDS may not like it but DC will just have to tell him it is non-negotiable
- The family income level at which child benefit is removed for families will be raised to £80,000 or more
- The threshold at which 40% tax is paid will be raised to £40,000
- You will go further than simply freezing council tax bills. Those not in receipt of council tax benefit should be guaranteed a cut in council tax of 2% in 2013/14, 3% in 2014/15 and 4% in 2015/16. Incidentally, you need to find some way of making it clear on council tax bills that there is a reduction in people’s bills and critically that this is thanks to the government!
- You are committed to lowering utility bills and reaffirming DC’s (slightly odd) announcement on gas and electricity tariffs. I’m still not actually sure what this means in reality but hell – it sounds good!
- And finally that you are going to reduce people’s fuel bills by cutting fuel duty. Incidentally, you need to get those treasury boffins to find a way of ensuring that the price at the pump actually goes down a bit. You might need have a word with the oil companies and threaten a windfall tax (or more wind farms!) if they don’t play ball.
If you can deliver even most of this and DC shows some back bone and delivers a cut in our euro bill, or at least threatens a veto and stops a deal, then I would put money on our numbers improving over the coming months. Even better it will be great watching Balls and Miliband spluttering their way to a response! Will they argue against putting money into taxpayers’ pockets? Of course not; and even better, they will be forced to attack the further cuts to the welfare bills. We stand up for hard working families; they stand up for those on benefits. It will be hilarious, they wont see it coming!!
Anyway, hope that helps. When are we going out for that drink?
All the best.
*This is in fact a lie. I didn’t find it on a photocopier, though doubtless a version of this memo is currently sitting in the chancellor’s in-tray
Peter Watt was general secretary of the Labour party