Five Tory gaffes and U-turns

Cameron's self-inflicted wounds.

As Jonathan Freedland points out in today's Guardian, the past few weeks have seen an extraordinary number of Tory gaffes and U-turns take place. Here are five of the most striking.

1) Spending cuts

The Tories have scaled down their commitment to spending cuts in the first year, promising only to "make a start" in reducing the Budget deficit. This may be reasonable (and something progressives should welcome) but it is distinctly at odds with the party's earlier position. David Cameron's belated acknowledgement that the fragile recovery means significant cuts are unfeasible makes his party's previous stance look naive.

Meanwhile, George Osborne still refuses to say how much of the £178bn deficit the Tories would eliminate over the next parliament, merely stating that the party will go "further and faster" than Labour. But how much further? We still don't know.

2) Lord Stern

George Osborne's exaggeration of Lord Stern's advisory role was the most surprising and unnecessary gaffe of all. Stern's retraction was unambiguous: "I am not, and have no plans to be, an adviser to any political party." Whether he will play any role in the Tories' "re-education" programme for anti-green candidates is unclear.

3) Lord Ashcroft's tax status

The one issue Cameron still shows no sign of getting a grip on. His failure to demand that Ashcroft reveal his tax status has been one of the biggest moral and strategic blunders of his leadership. His own backbenchers, severely disciplined over their expenses, are increasingly exasperated by the special treatment extended to Ashcroft. The nature of the peer's "undertaking" on his tax status will now be revealed within 34 days by the Cabinet Office. In the meantime, Labour and the Lib Dems can hone their attack lines for the election.

4) Household defence

By declaring that burglars "leave their human rights outside", Cameron appeared to rewrite his party's policy on the spot. Chris Grayling has previously denied that a Tory government would provide householders with a "licence to kill" but the Tory leader's words appeared to offer just that. His comments won't do him any harm with the voters, but here was an example of just the sort of Howard-style populism that Cameron was meant to mark a break with.

5) Marriage tax policy

Four years after Cameron first pledged to support marriage through the tax system in an attempt to woo the right, that's all we have: a pledge. Cameron was candid enough to admit that he "messed up" (perhaps borrowing a line from Barack Obama) but since then he's given us no indication of the size or degree of any tax break.

Instead, Tory policy is assumed to be whatever Iain Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice has proposed that week. Cameron may insist that it's the "message not the money" that matters, but to be taken seriously he must give some indication of the latter.

PS: It's not all bad news for the Tories. UK Polling Report's Anthony Wells analyses MORI's 2009 data this morning and concludes: "[I]f a pattern of swing like this happened in reality it could hardly be more perfect for the Tories -- tons of extra votes in the seats they need to win."

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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An alternative Trainspotting script for John Humphrys’ Radio 4 “Choose Life” tribute

Born chippy.

Your mole often has Radio 4’s Today programme babbling away comfortingly in the background while emerging blinking from the burrow. So imagine its horror this morning, when the BBC decided to sully this listening experience with John Humphrys doing the “Choose Life” monologue from Trainspotting.

“I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got Radio 4?” he concluded, as a nation cringed.

Introduced as someone who has “taken issue with modernity”, Humphrys launched into the film character Renton’s iconic rant against the banality of modern life.

But Humphrys’ role as in-studio curmudgeon is neither endearing nor amusing to this mole. Often tasked with stories about modern technology and digital culture by supposedly mischievous editors, Humphrys sounds increasingly cranky and ill-informed. It doesn’t exactly make for enlightening interviews. So your mole has tampered with the script. Here’s what he should have said:

“Choose life. Choose a job and then never retire, ever. Choose a career defined by growling and scoffing. Choose crashing the pips three mornings out of five. Choose a fucking long contract. Choose interrupting your co-hosts, politicians, religious leaders and children. Choose sitting across the desk from Justin Webb at 7.20 wondering what you’re doing with your life. Choose confusion about why Thought for the Day is still a thing. Choose hogging political interviews. Choose anxiety about whether Jim Naughtie’s departure means there’s dwindling demand for grouchy old men on flagship political radio shows. Choose a staunch commitment to misunderstanding stories about video games and emoji. Choose doing those stories anyway. Choose turning on the radio and wondering why the fuck you aren’t on on a Sunday morning as well. Choose sitting on that black leather chair hosting mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows (Mastermind). Choose going over time at the end of it all, pishing your last few seconds on needlessly combative questions, nothing more than an obstacle to that day’s editors being credited. Choose your future. Choose life . . .”

I'm a mole, innit.