Conference 2010 Lookahead | Tuesday 5 October

The who, when and where of today's Conservative party conference.

Look out for

Today's big speech will be from Iain Duncan Smith this afternoon at 14:30. Following George Osborne's announcement yesterday that universal child benefit would be cut, he will be under pressure to articulate his plan for the future of the entire benefit system. Critics of the child benefit cut, including from within the Conservative Party and the right-wing media, have called for the cut to be "softened", so Duncan Smith's response today will be closely scrutinised for signs of this.

In addition, David Cameron hinted in an interview this morning that child benefit would not be included in the planned "universal credit", as it would be tantamount to a "means testing system for every single family in the country", where as Iain Duncan Smith has previously suggested that child benefit would be part of the universal credit.

Signs of trouble

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, due to speak this morning, could be a source of concern for coalition operatives -- always unpredictable, this weekend he went on record to register his concern that Britain could be heading for a double-dip recession, striking a pessimistic note ahead of a conference at which the Tories will be striving to strike an optimistic note.

In addition to his economic pronouncements, the former chancellor will use his conference speech today to announce new plans to create jobs for prisoners. He is expected to announce plans to involve private companies in creating jobs for prisoners, and perhaps even the creation of special "workplace prisons". Tory grassroots are already reported to be unhappy with Clarke's previous announcements that rehabilitation and community sentences will be used to ease the burden on prisons, and today's speech, with its rhetoric about jails providing "a regime of hard work", will be an attempt by Clarke to appease his critics within his own party.

On the fringe

The New Statesman hosts a panel discussion, chaired by Mehdi Hasan, entitled Gaza life support: Is aid a failure of politics?, with Alan Duncan MP, Robin Kealy from Medical Aid to Palestine, NS contributor Ed Platt, and Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding. 1pm, Cullinan Suite, Copthorne Hotel.

Elsewhere, David Davis MP, Alex Deane of Big Brother Watch, and Matthew Elliott, founder of the Taxpayers' Alliance and campaign director for the No2AV campaign, come together for an event entitled Civil Liberties under the Coalition. 3.15pm, Austin Court.

Today's agenda

10:00 Public services - Andrew Lansley and Michael Gove

11.30 Cutting crime, reforming justice - Ken Clarke and Theresa May

14.30 Reforming welfare - Iain Duncan Smith

15.45 Tackling global poverty - Andrew Mitchell

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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How a small tax rise exposed the SNP's anti-austerity talk for just that

The SNP refuse to use their extra powers to lessen austerity, says Kezia Dugdale.

"We will demand an alternative to slash and burn austerity."

With those few words, Nicola Sturgeon sought to reassure the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year that the SNP were a party opposed to public spending cuts. We all remember the general election TV debates, where the First Minister built her celebrity as the leader of the anti-austerity cause.

Last week, though, she was found out. When faced with the choice between using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in the future or imposing cuts to our schools, Nicola Sturgeon chose cuts. Incredible as it sounds the SNP stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories to vote for hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cuts to schools and other vital public services, rather than asking people to pay a little bit more to invest. That's not the choice of an anti-austerity pin-up. It's a sell-out.

People living outside of Scotland may not be fully aware of the significant shift that has taken place in politics north of the border in the last week. The days of grievance and blaming someone else for decisions made in Scotland appear to be coming to an end.

The SNP's budget is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. It will impose hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts to local public services - including our schools. We don't know what cuts the SNP are planning for future years because they are only presenting a one year budget to get them through the election, but we know from the experts that the biggest cuts are likely to come in 2017/18 and 2018/19. For unprotected budgets like education that could mean cuts of 16 per cent.

It doesn't have to be this way, though. The Scottish Parliament has the power to stop these cuts, if only we have the political will to act. Last week I did just that.

I set out a plan, using the new powers we have today, to set a Scottish rate of income tax 1p higher than that set by George Osborne. This would raise an extra half a billion pounds, giving us the chance to stop the cuts to education and other services. Labour would protect education funding in real terms over the next five years in Scotland. Faced with the choice of asking people to pay a little bit more to invest or carrying on with the SNP's cuts, the choice was pretty simple for me - I won't support cuts to our nation’s future prosperity.

Being told by commentators across the political spectrum that my plan is bold should normally set alarm bells ringing. Bold is usually code for saying something unpopular. In reality, it's pretty simple - how can I say I am against cuts but refuse to use the powers we have to stop them?

Experts - including Professors David Bell and David Eiser of the University of Stirling; the Resolution Foundation; and IPPR Scotland - have said our plan is fair because the wealthiest few would pay the most. Trade unions have backed our proposal, because they recognise the damage hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts will do to our schools and the jobs it will cost.

Council leaders have said our plan to pay £100 cashback to low income taxpayers - including pensioners - to ensure they benefit from this plan is workable.

The silliest of all the SNP's objections is that they won't back our plan because the poorest shouldn't have to pay the price of Tory austerity. The idea that imposing hundreds of millions of pounds of spending cuts on our schools and public services won't make the poorest pay is risible. It's not just the poorest who will lose out from cuts to education. Every single family and business in Scotland would benefit from having a world class education system that gives our young the skills they need to make their way in the world.

The next time we hear Nicola Sturgeon talk up her anti-austerity credentials, people should remember how she did nothing when she had the chance to end austerity. Until now it may have been acceptable to say you are opposed to spending cuts but doing nothing to stop them. Those days are rapidly coming to a close. It makes for the most important, and most interesting, election we’ve had in Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale is leader of Scottish Labour.