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."

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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