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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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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