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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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era