How the Tories broke their promises on the EMA

In January 2010 Cameron said: “We don’t have any plans to get rid of them.”

The Liberal Democrats' decision to break their pledge to vote against higher tuition fees means that Nick Clegg's party is rightly derided for its dishonesty and mendacity. But if anything, the Conservatives' long list of broken promises is even worse.

It was David Cameron who said that he had "no plans" to raise VAT (before increasing this regressive tax to 20 per cent), who promised that he wouldn't "change child benefit" (before abolishing it for higher earners) and who called for an end to the "top-down reorganisations of the NHS" (before announcing the biggest reforms since the health service was founded).

Ahead of today's vote on the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance, it's worth remembering that this is another area in which the Tories have broken their election promises.

As the video below shows, at a Cameron Direct event in January 2010, the Conservative leader said: "We've looked at educational maintenance allowances and we haven't announced any plan to get rid of them." Challenged to firm up his pledge, he added: "I said we don't have any plans to get rid of them . . . it's one of those things the Labour Party keep putting out that we are but we're not."

Cameron wasn't the only prominent Conservative to come out in favour of the EMA. In an interview with the Guardian just before the election, Michael Gove said: "Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping EMA. I have never said this. We won't."

The abolition of the EMA, which paid up to £30 a week to 16-to-18-years-olds living in households whose income is less than £30,800 a year, is likely to lower working-class participation in education and decrease social mobility. Gove may argue that there is little proof that the EMA makes more pupils stay on, but the National Foundation for Educational Research estimates an extra 10 per cent do.

That may not sound like many, but at a time of high youth unemployment it prevents up to 60,000 more from joining the dole queue.

There is also some evidence to suggest that the EMA benefits the economy as a whole by increasing the productivity of those who would have stayed on anyway (EMA recipients are required to attend 100 per cent of their lectures).

In a recent piece for the NS, Gavin Kelly noted that while the removal of the 10p income-tax band had cost the average household £232, the abolition of the EMA will cost pupils as much as £1,200. Taken in conjunction with the large cuts to tax credits, this could be the closest the coalition comes to its own "10p moment".

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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John McDonnell praises New Labour as he enters conciliatory mode

The shadow chancellor sought to build a bridge between the past and the present by crediting the 1997 government. 

Ever since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, John McDonnell has been on a mission to reinvent himself as a kinder, gentler politician. He hasn’t always succeeded. In July, the shadow chancellor declared of rebel MPs: “As plotters they were fucking useless”.

But in his Labour conference speech, Corbyn’s closest ally was firmly in conciliatory mode. McDonnell thanked Owen Smith for his part in defeating the Personal Independence Payment cuts. He praised Caroline Flint, with whom he has clashed, for her amendment to the financial bill on corporate tax transparency. Jonathan Reynolds, who will soon return to the frontbench, was credited for the “patriots pay their taxes” campaign (the latter two not mentioned in the original text).

McDonnell’s ecunmenicism didn’t end here. The 1997 Labour government, against which he and Corbyn so often defined themselves, was praised for its introduction of the minimum wage (though McDonnell couldn’t quite bring himself to mention Tony Blair). Promising a “real Living Wage” of around £10 per hour, the shadow chancellor sought to build a bridge between the past and the present. Though he couldn’t resist adding some red water as he closed: “In this party you no longer have to whisper it, it's called socialism. Solidarity!”

As a rebuke to those who accuse him of seeking power in the party, not the country, McDonnell spoke relentlessly of what the next Labour “government” would do. He promised a £250bn National Investment Bank, a “Right to Own” for employees, the repeal of the Trade Union Act and declared himself “interested” in the potential of a Universal Basic Income. It was a decidedly wonkish speech, free of the attack lines and jokes that others serve up.

One of the more striking passages was on McDonnell’s personal story (a recurring feature of Labour speeches since Sadiq Khan’s mayoral victory). “I was born in the city [Liverpool], not far from here,” he recalled. “My dad was a Liverpool docker and my mum was a cleaner who then served behind the counter at British Homes Stores for 30 years. I was part of the 1960's generation.  We lived in what sociological studies have described as some of the worst housing conditions that exist within this country. We just called it home.”

In his peroration, he declared: “In the birthplace of John Lennon, it falls to us to inspire people to imagine.” Most Labour MPs believe that a government led by Corbyn and McDonnell will remain just that: imaginary. “You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one,” the shadow chancellor could have countered. With his praise for New Labour, he began the work of forging his party’s own brotherhood of man.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.