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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The campaign to keep Britain in Europe must be based on hope, not fear

Together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of.

Today the Liberal Democrats launched our national campaign to keep Britain in Europe. With the polls showing the outcome of this referendum is on a knife-edge, our party is determined to play a decisive role in this once in a generation fight. This will not be an easy campaign. But it is one we will relish as the UK's most outward-looking and internationalist party. Together in Europe the UK has delivered peace, created the world’s largest free trade area and given the British people the opportunity to live, work and travel freely across the continent. Now is the time to build on these achievements, not throw them all away.

Already we are hearing fear-mongering from both sides in this heated debate. On the one hand, Ukip and the feuding Leave campaigns have shamelessly seized on the events in Cologne at New Year to claim that British women will be at risk if the UK stays in Europe. On the other, David Cameron claims that the refugees he derides as a "bunch of migrants" in Calais will all descend on the other side of the Channel the minute Britain leaves the EU. The British public deserve better than this. Rather than constant mud-slinging and politicising of the world's biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, we need a frank and honest debate about what is really at stake. Most importantly this should be a positive campaign, one that is fought on hope and not on fear. As we have a seen in Scotland, a referendum won through scare tactics alone risks winning the battle but losing the war.

The voice of business and civil society, from scientists and the police to environmental charities, have a crucial role to play in explaining how being in the EU benefits the British economy and enhances people's everyday lives. All those who believe in Britain's EU membership must not be afraid to speak out and make the positive case why being in Europe makes us more prosperous, stable and secure. Because at its heart this debate is not just about facts and figures, it is about what kind of country we want to be.

The Leave campaigns cannot agree what they believe in. Some want the UK to be an offshore, deregulated tax haven, others advocate a protectionist, mean-hearted country that shuts it doors to the world. As with so many populist movements, from Putin to Trump, they are defined not by what they are for but what they are against. Their failure to come up with a credible vision for our country's future is not patriotic, it is irresponsible.

This leaves the field open to put forward a united vision of Britain's place in Europe and the world. Liberal Democrats are clear what we believe in: an open, inclusive and tolerant nation that stands tall in the world and doesn't hide from it. We are not uncritical of the EU's institutions. Indeed as Liberals, we fiercely believe that power must be devolved to the lowest possible level, empowering communities and individuals wherever possible to make decisions for themselves. But we recognise that staying in Europe is the best way to find the solutions to the problems that don't stop at borders, rather than leaving them to our children and grandchildren. We believe Britain must put itself at the heart of our continent's future and shape a more effective and more accountable Europe, focused on responding to major global challenges we face.

Together in Europe we can build a strong and prosperous future, from pioneering research into life-saving new medicines to tackling climate change and fighting international crime. Together we can provide hope for the desperate and spread the peace we now take for granted to the rest of the world. And together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of. So if you agree then join the Liberal Democrat campaign today, to remain in together, and to stand up for the type of Britain you think we should be.