Cameron is for turning

The government’s cuts are worse than Thatcher’s, but Cameron and co are vulnerable to opposition.

In the run-up to the general election, Labour made headway when the Tories were forced on to the ground of cuts and the risk to the economy – and moved backwards when the Tories forced Labour on to the ground of the deficit and cuts. Now that the reality of the cuts and the threat they pose to recovery and a decent society is starting to become apparent, the Tories are experiencing attrition at the polls.

The forest sell-off and other, smaller but significant U-turns – such as over the Booktrust programme – show Cameron and Osborne are vulnerable to opposition and desperate to cling to as much of their electoral base as possible.

It is obvious why.

One, because the government's agenda is so brutal that it knows it cannot fight on all fronts at once, and needs to remove unnecessary noise and rows. Its problem is that there are so many cuts and reckless decisions that when one hole in the dam is plugged, another bursts open.

Two, because what the government fears most is that many more of those on middle incomes and even some on higher incomes will conclude that the government is wrong, out of touch and cutting too far and too fast.

The government fears that significant parts of its own potential electoral base may be turned against it. The forest sell-off was so damaging because it united opinion right the way through to parts of the country that should usually be Conservative-supporting. Ed Miliband's decision to make the forests campaign a priority was right and shows how it is possible to define the centre ground on Labour's terms.

Three, because, despite fighting a general election campaign against a party seeking an unprecedented fourth term after the worst economic crisis since the Second World War and with a prime minister on the ropes, David Cameron did not win the election. His government is fragile and lacks a mandate for its actions.

Cameron's speech demonising multiculturalism and the Muslim communities, on the day of the EDL march in Luton, was a distraction from the cuts that are hurting the majority. Similarly, the renewed attack on pay levels in the public sector is a distraction from how the bankers are sitting pretty and how the rich are being protected at everyone else's expense.

Here in London, Cameron's midterm electoral test is already hoving into view, with mayoral and Assembly elections a little over a year away. New figures published today show that just as Cameron and Osborne are squeezing the majority, so London's mayor has been focusing on protecting bankers and financiers. Over the course of one 12-month period, Boris Johnson held more meetings with bankers and the financial services industry than with the Metropolitan Police – and considerably more than he spent in publicly accountable meetings and press conferences.

His meetings with the bankers even outnumbered meetings with government ministers.

My message to tomorrow's cross-party Progressive London gathering is this. Yes, the economic situation is bad, and is damaging the lives of millions. Yes, the government's actions are harming public services and our quality of life. But our job is to stand up for the vast majority, ensure we are united, and work to prevent the Conservatives deflecting the agenda on their terms. And we should be clear that the government's own weaknesses mean there is everything to be gained from campaigning and organising on that basis to push them back.

Ken Livingstone is a former mayor of London. He will be speaking at "There is an Alternative – Protecting London, Opposing Tory Cuts" tomorrow at Congress House. For more information and to register in advance, click here.

Ken Livingstone is the former Mayor of London.
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The most terrifying thing about Donald Trump's speech? What he didn't say

No politician uses official speeches to put across their most controversial ideas. But Donald Trump's are not hard to find. 

As Donald Trump took the podium on a cold Washington day to deliver his inauguration speech, the world held its breath. Viewers hunched over televisions or internet streaming services watched Trump mouth “thank you” to the camera, no doubt wondering how he could possibly live up to his deranged late-night Twitter persona. In newsrooms across America, reporters unsure when they might next get access to a president who seems to delight in denying them the right to ask questions got ready to parse his words for any clue as to what was to come. Some, deciding they couldn’t bear to watch, studiously busied themselves with other things.

But when the moment came, Trump’s speech was uncharacteristically professional – at least compared to his previous performances. The fractured, repetitive grammar that marks many of his off-the-cuff statements was missing, and so, too, were most of his most controversial policy ideas.

Trump told the crowd that his presidency would “determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come” before expressing his gratefulness to President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for their “gracious aid” during the transition. “They have been magnificent," Trump said, before leading applause of thanks from the crowd.

If this opening was innocent enough, however, it all changed in the next breath. The new president moved quickly to the “historic movement”, “the likes of which the world has never seen before”, that elected him President. Following the small-state rhetoric of his campaign, Trump promised to take power from the “establishment” and restore it to the American people. “This moment," he told them, “Is your moment. It belongs to you.”

A good deal of the speech was given over to re-iterating his nationalist positions while also making repeated references to the key issues – “Islamic terrorism” and families – that remain points of commonality within the fractured Republican GOP.

The loss of business to overseas producers was blamed for “destroying our jobs”. “Protection," Trump said, “Will lead to great strength." He promised to end what he called the “American carnage” caused by drugs and crime.

“From this day forward," Trump said, “It’s going to be only America first."

There was plenty in the speech, then, that should worry viewers, particularly if you read Trump’s promises to make America “unstoppable” so it can “win” again in light of his recent tweets about China

But it was the things Trump didn't mention that should worry us most. Trump, we know, doesn’t use official channels to communicate his most troubling ideas. From bizarre television interviews to his upsetting and offensive rallies and, of course, the infamous tweets, the new President is inclined to fling his thoughts into the world as and when he sees fit, not on the occasions when he’s required to address the nation (see, also, his anodyne acceptance speech).

It’s important to remember that Trump’s administration wins when it makes itself seem as innocent as possible. During the speech, I was reminded of my colleague Helen Lewis’ recent thoughts on the “gaslighter-in-chief”, reflecting on Trump’s lying claim that he never mocked a disabled reporter. “Now we can see," she wrote, “A false narrative being built in real time, tweet by tweet."

Saying things that are untrue isn’t the only way of lying – it is also possible to lie by omission.

There has been much discussion as to whether Trump will soften after he becomes president. All the things this speech did not mention were designed to keep us guessing about many of the President’s most controversial promises.

Trump did not mention his proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, nor the wall he insists he will erect between America and Mexico (which he maintains the latter will pay for). He maintained a polite coolness towards the former President and avoiding any discussion of alleged cuts to anti-domestic violence programs and abortion regulations. Why? Trump wanted to leave viewers unsure as to whether he actually intends to carry through on his election rhetoric.

To understand what Trump is capable of, therefore, it is best not to look to his speeches on a global stage, but to the promises he makes to his allies. So when the President’s personal website still insists he will build a wall, end catch-and-release, suspend immigration from “terror-prone regions” “where adequate screening cannot occur”; when, despite saying he understands only 3 per cent of Planned Parenthood services relate to abortion and that “millions” of women are helped by their cancer screening, he plans to defund Planned Parenthood; when the president says he will remove gun-free zones around schools “on his first day” - believe him.  

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland