Will Boris and Cameron go to war over the Budget?

Mayor warns that London must be spared from “dramatic and deep cuts”.

The dramatic spending cuts planned by the coalition government have yet to produce any significant divisions on the Conservative side, but that may have changed today with the intervention of Boris Johnson.

Boris, who rarely misses an opportunity to provoke David Cameron, told the London Assembly that he was fighting to protect the capital from the "dramatic and deep cuts" announced by the Chancellor, George Osborne.

In particular, he is desperate to secure the future of the £16bn Crossrail project and vital Tube upgrades.

He said: "It is quite wrong to treat us [London] in the same way as other, more spendthrift areas of Whitehall."

Cameron will be reluctant to concede to Boris. The coalition's mantra remains "We're all in this together": no exceptions can be made (the £110bn NHS budget aside). And among voters there is a widespread perception that London has received preferential treatment for far too long.

But the Prime Minister and his allies will be troubled by Boris's intervention all the same. After Michael Gove was forced to announce that many schools weren't going to be rebuilt after all, we witnessed the unusual spectacle of Conservative MPs (Ian Liddell-Grainger, Philip Davies) against Tory cuts.

As cuts move steadily from the abstract to the specific, we can expect others to join them. In every case, the MP in question will insist that while reducing the country's £149bn Budget deficit remains the priority, an exception should be made for them and their constituents.

Boris, the man still seem by some as the party's leader-in-waiting, could yet become a rallying point for anti-cuts Tories.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.