Posts Tagged ‘Tory U-turns’

Whip’s Notebook: Izzy whizzy George gets dizzy and blows £200 million

08/06/2012, 07:00:54 AM

by Jon Ashworth

Tory MPs regularly receive briefings from their parliamentary resource unit (PRU) giving them lines to take, suggested responses to letters on policy, attack lines for use in the chamber and that sort of thing. Until last week the PRU will have had standard response scripts on the stocks about the importance of the pasty tax, caravan tax, church renovation tax and charity tax. No doubt these scripts would include a line reminding their constituents that backing down on these new revenue raisers would be deeply irresponsible given the size of the deficit. Loyal Tory MPs will have emailed out these responses whenever a constituent got in touch complaining about the new tax hikes. They will have used the lines in their weekly MP’s column in the local paper and in interviews on local radio.

Behind the scenes some poor staffer in the PRU will have been relieved and grateful that the briefing was available for their Tory MPs. No doubt she or he had been getting a barrage of calls and emails from MPs’ pesky researchers asking for a line.

The poor staffer will have called the junior special adviser in the Treasury who would actually rather focus on important matters like making sure his name is on the list for the Spectator summer party. The special adviser will have no doubt grumpily despaired “why can’t they use the budget PRU briefing, don’t they realise how busy we are?!” Our heroic PRU staffer persists ”but we’re getting lots of calls, didn’t you see the finance bill debate? No one spoke up to support the policy apart from that chap desperate for promotion who founded YouGov.”

Eventually the Treasury special adviser relents and signs off an agreed brief while remaining irritated that his more important special advisor colleague Rupert Harrison gets the Spectator summer party invite not him.

But at least the tenacious staffer is happy and finally emails the pasty tax brief out to a grateful parliamentary party and now turns attention to the “Hunt hasn’t really broken the ministerial Code” brief that the Number 10 Political Office are demanding goes out.

But an updated PRU brief wasn’t enough to satisfy MPs or more importantly public opinion.

The Government’s majority had already been reduced to just 25 on the votes on the pasty and caravan tax. They should be winning votes in the Commons by 83. Overall 31 Tory MPs – around 10 per cent of the Conservative Parliamentary Party – voted against one or more of George Osborne’s budget measures.

And if Osborne thought winning the votes was enough to put this issue to bed, he was wrong.

Lib Dem MPs were handing out pasties in Parliament, 4 Tory MPs brought petitions to the Commons on the caravan tax even though they voted for it, Labour’s frontbench Treasury team were constantly up and at them. MPs were calling adjournment debates forcing ministers back to the Commons to defend the policy. Just two weeks ago poor David Gauke, Exchequer Secretary was sent out to defend the pasty tax in a Westminster hall debate and confirmed that samosas cooked and sold in sweet shops, many of which we have in Leicester, will have VAT as well.

And then in the week that Tony Blair, Vince Cable and Jeremy Hunt were all at Leveson we witnessed what appeared like a dizzying u-turn a day from Osborne. In total he makes £200 million of u-turns with no explanation of how these latest unfunded commitments will be paid for. That’s a lot of cash for Osborne to spend to try to save his draining credibility.


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Thursday News Review

09/06/2011, 06:46:46 AM

U-turn after U-turn

Dithering David Cameron was ridiculed yesterday after performing yet another spectacular backflip over Government policy. He ordered a rethink on controversial plans to halve jail sentences for violent criminals – shelving proposals put forward by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. It came just two days he was forced into an embarrassing climbdown on sweeping health reforms. And it showed that, unlike one of his predecessors, Margaret Thatcher, this Tory PM definitely IS for turning. The hapless leader’s latest about-face is seen as a humiliating blow for Mr Clarke. – Daily Mirror

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke faced embarrassment yesterday after David Cameron vetoed his proposal to cut by up to half the prison terms for rapists and other violent offenders who make early guilty pleas. It was the Prime Minister’s second major policy U-turn in less than 24 hours following his concessions on NHS reform. Mr Clarke’s plans to cut up to 50 per cent from sentences of offenders who plead guilty early (an increase from 33 per cent) faced savage criticism from Tory right-wingers. The Independent understands that ministers are considering a two-tier scheme, under which a maximum 33 per cent discount will be retained for the most severe crimes such as rape, assault and armed robbery but 50 per cent could be introduced for less serious offences. The latter option is being backed by Mr Clarke and Liberal Democrat ministers, while many Tories are pressing for the 50 per cent proposal to be scrapped outright. – the Independent

Justice secretary Kenneth Clarke has been forced by Number 10 to abandon a plan to give rapists, and other serious offenders, a 50% sentence discount in return for early guilty pleas, but he is fiercely resisting Treasury demands to make his justice ministry bear the multi-million pound cost. Clarke had proposed to increase the discount from 33% to 50% for all offenders, so saving £130m from a departmental budget being slashed by a quarter. Following talks with David Cameron over the past 48 hours, Clarke accepted rapists will now be excluded, but he is battling to retain the extra discount for less serious offences, a policy that would free up badly needed prison places. In difficult talks yesterday with the Treasury chief secretary, Danny Alexander, Clarke pointed out he had last year won Treasury agreement that if the government’s so-called rehabilitation revolution did not deliver a lower jail population, then the Treasury would bear the costs from the reserve. – the Guardian

Another U-turn on pensions possible

Senior Liberal Democrats are understood to be determined to reverse the plans. Jenny Willott, the Lib Dem backbench spokeswoman on pensions, has also called for the proposals to be reconsidered. But the Treasury is likely to fiercely resist attempts to unpick the state pension age changes, which will save the taxpayer billions in the years ahead, unless they can be made to pay for themselves. Former Lib Dem party leader Charles Kennedy, John Hemming and Annette Brooke are among those who have opposed the changes. While Tory MPs Peter Bottomley, James Gray and Chloe Smith have asked for the rules to be amended. She told the Commons: ‘Women currently in their late 50s are getting a very bad deal. No men will see their state pension age increase by more than a year but half a million women will.’ – Daily Mail

Tory and Lib Dem rebels sided with Labour in raising concerns about the impact a decision to raise it to 66 by 2018 will have on around 300,000 women born in 1953 and 1954. They have been given just seven years notice. David Cameron was challenged over it by Lib Dem Annette Brook at PM’s Questions. She urged him to review it, saying: “The women affected will be asked to work up to two extra years over and above what they had planned for, whereas men will be asked to work only an extra year. The discrimination concerns me.” Mr Cameron said he “understood” but argued pensioners would be better off in increased pension payments agreed by the Coalition. – Daily Express

Politicians pay tribute to Prince Philip at 90

Taking time out after Prime Minister’s Questions to propose a “humble address” to be presented to the Queen to mark the occasion, Mr Cameron described the Duke as “a source of rock solid strength” during his record-breaking 59 years as consort. Ed Miliband, the leader of the Opposition, was equally effusive, saying the Duke “embodies qualities of duty, loyalty public service and good humour – great British qualities”. But it was the two leaders’ frequent references to the Duke’s famed sense of mischief that drew the biggest response from the House. Mr Cameron promised to keep his speech short, quoting the Duke’s observation that “the mind cannot absorb what the backside cannot endure”, and shared his favourite blunt comment by the Duke, when he was once asked how his flight had been. “Have you ever been on a plane?” the Duke had told a dignitary. “Well, you know how it goes up in the air and comes down again – it was like that.” – Daily Telegraph

Its up to you Carwyn

Labour leader Ed Miliband has said that policies taken forward by Carwyn Jones’ Welsh Government would shape his party’s next UK manifesto – and he gave the First Minister a free hand to negotiate coalition deals with either Plaid Cymru or the Liberal Democrats. Speaking in a London press conference yesterday, Mr Miliband made it clear he would not oppose Assembly link-ups with Plaid or the Lib Dems if the Welsh Labour leader considered these necessary. He said: “These are decisions for him. He’s an excellent First Minister. “He’s done a brilliant job since he’s taken over from Rhodri Morgan. Those kind of decisions are for him.” – Western Mail

Encouraging for Labour, but worrying figures for Ed

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg are struggling to improve their image with voters while David Cameron remains almost twice as popular as his two rival leaders.  After a mini-revival early this year, the Liberal Democrats are back at the 11 per cent rating to which they slumped last year after their tuition fees U-turn. Labour (40 per cent) enjoys a four-point advantage over the Tories (36 per cent). Mr Cameron, dubbed “Teflon Man” by Tory aides, appears to float above the political fray. Mr Clegg seems to be the fall guy for ministers’ unpopular decisions while Mr Miliband makes little impact on voters. Mr Clegg’s personal ratings have hit a new low. ComRes found only 21 per cent believe he is a good leader. Professor Curtice said: “There must now be question marks about Clegg’s ability to recover from his unpopularity, which is beginning to be on a par with that endured by Gordon Brown. Leaders rarely recover popularity once most of the public have decided to write them off.” There is little either for Mr Miliband to celebrate. ComRes found only 22 per cent deem him a good leader, compared with Mr Cameron’s 39 per cent. Ominously for Labour, none of the last three opposition leaders with a negative satisfaction rating after eight months in the post – William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Howard – went on to become prime minister. – the Independent

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One sorry doesn’t save the Tory sinners

24/02/2011, 09:35:43 AM

by John Woodcock

There is a scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent, played by John Travolta, testily tells fellow hitman Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) to stop giving him grief about the fact he has just accidently shot  a third member of their gang in the face.

“Did you ever hear the philosophy that once a man admits he’s wrong that he is immediately forgiven for all wrongdoings”? asks Vincent.

Now I am obviously not making any comparison at all between the drug-fuelled, murderous underworlds created by Quentin Tarantino and environment secretary Caroline Spelman’s disagreeable encounters with forest lovers. No one died, or was ever going to die, as a result of the hopefully now aborted Tory forest privatisation plan.

Nevertheless, there was a concerted effort last week to impose a Pulp Fiction philosophy on those seeking to assess the effect on the government’s credibility of David Cameron’s growing reputation for u-turns.

“A shining example of the new politics”, was how one robustly pro-coalition Liberal Democrat MP described Caroline Spelman’s humiliating volte-face on forests.

Bravo to the Conservatives for finally admitting openly that this mass sell-off of our English heritage, of which they had been extolling the virtues for months, was in fact bonkers. Shame on Labour for not having the good grace to join in the choruses of “For she’s a jolly good fellow” ringing out from the government benches behind the newly repentant environment secretary.

Now it has to be said that the way Ms Spelman baldly admitted she had been wrong and the tone she adopted in doing so were indeed striking last week. And they fairly disarming.

But the public are not daft. Yes, when faced with a government doing something they rightly hate, they would of course rather it changed its mind. But nothing beats not wanting to do it in the first place: having the good sense to realise from the outset what is totally beyond the pale.

And there is something else that fundamentally undermines the notion that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are taking a further stride into a new dawn with each successive u-turn. That is the fact that a Spelman-style mea culpa is actually the exception rather than the rule so far.

Compare her approach to that of defence secretary the previous day on an equally important issue – the military covenant between government and the armed forces. Liam Fox point blank refused to admit that he had backed away from the Tory commitment to enshrine covenant in law, ignoring all evidence to the contrary presented by respected groups like the Royal British Legion.

It was more Vicky Pollard: “I never”, than Spelman: “I’m sorry”. All supplemented with wild attacks on Labour to the effect that we never apologised, so why should they? (They were clearly too busy getting to grips with the levers of power to listen to our four month long leadership contest, when at times we seemed to do little else).

But the real test will come in how open David Cameron and George Osborne are with the public if they change course in the budget to tackle the lack of growth in the economy. Will the new politics extend to George Osborne standing up to admit that the economic masochism imposed in the first nine months of Tory-led government is not in the country’s long term interests after all?

I very much doubt it.

John Woodcock is Labour and Cooperative MP for Barrow and Furness and a shadow transport minister.

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