Can we trust Dave?

Cameron is breaking his "personal" pledges.

So how much is the Prime Minister's word worth? The well-informed James Forsyth wrote in the Mail on Sunday on 13 December 2010:

Breaking one of Cameron's personal promises is one of the great no-nos of this government. All the way through the Spending Review, great care -- and cost -- was taken to protect any commitment that Cameron himself had made.

Downing Street is desperate to protect the Cameron brand. They know that a leader's word has to mean something . . .

Forsyth is right: in an age in which trust in politicians is plummeting by the day, a party leader's word does have to mean something. He's wrong, however, to say: "Breaking one of Cameron's personal promises is one of the great no-nos of this government." The Prime Minister himself has broken a fair few (child benefit? VAT?) and, as this morning's newspapers make clear, he is in the midst of violating a few more.

Take the NHS. Cameron, in opposition, made a great fanfare about protecting the NHS budget from cuts; in fact, in December, Cameron told MPs at Prime Minister's Questions:

We are not breaking that promise. We want to see NHS spending increase by more than inflation every year.

Yet, as the Mirror reports:

An analysis by the highly respected Institute for Fiscal Studies showed yesterday rising inflation means NHS funding will fall 0.9 per cent over the next four years, equivalent to a cut of £900m.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, has helped to cook the books by reducing the baseline from which the Government measures health spending.

But the IFS said that even with the new baseline Mr Osborne will struggle to maintain NHS spending above "zero" and was "sailing very close to the wind".

Then, there is the issue of pensioners and the Winter Fuel Allowance. From the Guardian:

Older people will receive up to £100 less from the government in payments to help with their winter energy bills -- a cut George Osborne failed to mention in his Budget speech, or include in the Budget document.

The winter fuel payment is currently worth £250 for the over-60s and £400 for the over-80s, following a temporary uplift of £50 and £100 respectively -- introduced by the previous government in 2008. It is this top-up that the current government is allowing to expire from winter 2011.

Yet in a speech delivered 48 hours before last year's general election, Cameron proclaimed:

And I want to say to British people clearly and frankly this; if you are elderly, if you are frail, if you are poor, if you are needy a Conservative government will always look after you. On the journey we need to take this country on, no one will be left behind. And let me say very clearly to pensioners if you have a Conservative government your Winter Fuel Allowance, your bus pass, your Pension Credit, your free TV licence, all these things are safe. You can read my lips, that is a promise from my heart.

Hmm. Dave had better be careful. There was another centre-right leader who made grandiose promises -- before breaking them -- while uttering the fateful words, "read my lips". Whatever happened to him?

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Martin Sorrell: I support a second EU referendum

If the economy is not in great shape after two years, public opinion on Brexit could yet shift, says the WPP head.

On Labour’s weakness, if you take the market economy analogy, if you don’t have vigorous competitors you have a monopoly. That’s not good for prices and certainly not for competition. It breeds inefficiency, apathy, complacency, even arrogance. That applies to politics too.

A new party? Maybe, but Tom Friedman has a view that parties have outlived their purpose and with the changes that have taken place through globalisation, and will do through automation, what’s necessary is for parties not to realign but for new organisations and new structures to be developed.

Britain leaving the EU with no deal is a strong possibility. A lot of observers believe that will be the case, that it’s too complex a thing to work out within two years. To extend it beyond two years you need 27 states to approve.

The other thing one has to bear in mind is what’s going to happen to the EU over the next two years. There’s the French event to come, the German event and the possibility of an Italian event: an election or a referendum. If Le Pen was to win or if Merkel couldn’t form a government or if the Renzi and Berlusconi coalition lost out to Cinque Stelle, it might be a very different story. I think the EU could absorb a Portuguese exit or a Greek exit, or maybe even both of them exiting, I don’t think either the euro or the EU could withstand an Italian exit, which if Cinque Stelle was in control you might well see.

Whatever you think the long-term result would be, and I think the UK would grow faster inside than outside, even if Britain were to be faster outside, to get to that point is going to take a long time. The odds are there will be a period of disruption over the next two years and beyond. If we have a hard exit, which I think is the most likely outcome, it could be quite unpleasant in the short to medium term.

Personally, I do support a second referendum. Richard Branson says so, Tony Blair says so. I think the odds are diminishing all the time and with the triggering of Article 50 it will take another lurch down. But if things don’t get well over the two years, if the economy is not in great shape, maybe there will be a Brexit check at the end.

Martin Sorrell is the chairman and chief executive of WPP.

As told to George Eaton.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition