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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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

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

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