Can Cameron hold the line on cuts?

Tory pledge to ring-fence NHS and overseas aid under fire from Cable and the right.

In his Mail on Sunday column, Vince Cable reminds us of a Lib Dem policy that deserves to be better known than it is. He writes:

Nor is it honest to say that some government budgets, such as that of the NHS, should be "ring-fenced" from cuts. By doing so, the government and the Tories are condemning other valued services to deeply damaging cuts.

Alone among the three main parties, the Lib Dems have avoided promising to ring-fence spending in any area. It's one stance, along with the party's pledge to raise the income-tax threshold to £10,000, that deserves serious attention.

Could it turn out to be a canny move? The line that all government departments should share the pain equally could prove to be effective. It certainly gives the Lib Dems a chance to split the Tories.

There is growing anger on the Conservative right over David Cameron's pledge to protect the health and overseas aid budgets, while cutting spending elsewhere by up to 20 per cent. The implications for defence, in particular, trouble the Tory grass roots.

This week's Spectator leader (not available online) gives us a flavour of the anger:

As Mr Cameron says, we're all in this together. So why should the police and military suffer, while the NHS bureaucracy keeps every penny of the money it has been force-fed?

The Tory leader's promise to protect spending on the NHS and international development is an essential part of his "detoxification" strategy, but it will cause him immense problems if the Tories win power. With an eye to these tensions, Labour is set to promise to ring-fence the defence budget for 2010-2011, with a £1.5bn spending boost for the Afghan war.

Cameron's response will be worth studying.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Commons Confidential: What happened at Tom Watson's birthday party?

Finances, fair and foul – and why Keir Starmer is doing the time warp.

Keir Starmer’s comrades mutter that a London seat is an albatross around the neck of the ambitious shadow Brexit secretary. He has a decent political CV: he was named after Labour’s first MP, Keir Hardie; he has a working-class background; he was the legal champion of the McLibel Two; he had a stint as director of public prosecutions. The knighthood is trickier, which is presumably why he rarely uses the title.

The consensus is that Labour will seek a leader from the north or the Midlands when Islington’s Jeremy Corbyn jumps or is pushed under a bus. Starmer, a highly rated frontbencher, is phlegmatic as he navigates the treacherous Brexit waters. “I keep hoping we wake up and it’s January 2016,” he told a Westminster gathering, “and we can have another run. Don’t we all?” Perhaps not everybody. Labour Remoaners grumble that Corbyn and particularly John McDonnell sound increasingly Brexitastic.

To Tom Watson’s 50th birthday bash at the Rivoli Ballroom in south London, an intact 1950s barrel-vaulted hall generous with the velvet. Ed Balls choreographed the “Gangnam Style” moves, and the Brockley venue hadn’t welcomed so many politicos since Tony Blair’s final Clause IV rally 22 years ago. Corbyn was uninvited, as the boogying deputy leader put the “party” back into the Labour Party. The thirsty guests slurped the free bar, repaying Watson for 30 years of failing to buy a drink.

One of Westminster’s dining rooms was booked for a “Decent Chaps Lunch” by Labour’s Warley warrior, John Spellar. In another room, the Tory peer David Willetts hosted a Christmas reception on behalf of the National Centre for Universities and Business. In mid-January. That’s either very tardy or very, very early.

The Labour Party’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, is a financial maestro, having cleared the £25m debt that the party inherited from the Blair-Brown era. Now I hear that he has squirrelled away a £6m war chest as insurance against Theresa May gambling on an early election. Wisely, the party isn’t relying on Momentum’s fractious footsloggers.

The word in Strangers’ Bar is that the Welsh MP Stephen Kinnock held his own £200-a-head fundraiser in London. Either the financial future of the Aberavon Labour Party is assured, or he fancies a tilt at the top job.

Dry January helped me recall a Labour frontbencher explaining why he never goes into the Commons chamber after a skinful: “I was sitting alongside a colleague clearly refreshed by a liquid lunch. He intervened and made a perfectly sensible point without slurring. Unfortunately, he stood up 20 minutes later and repeated the same point, word for word.”

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

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