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.

Getty
Show Hide image

How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

0800 7318496