Labour targets Cameron's broken promises on Sure Start

Before the election, Cameron said it was "a disgrace that Gordon Brown has been trying to frighten people about this", but 579 of the childrens' centres have since closed.

Among the content erased from the Conservatives' site last week were David Cameron's pre-election pledges on Sure Start - and with good reason. The day before the general election, Cameron promised to protect the network of children's centres founded by Labour, telling one voter who asked "whether these centres will continue to receive funding": "Yes, we back Sure Start. It's a disgrace that Gordon Brown has been trying to frighten people about this. He's the prime minister of this country but he's been scaring people about something that really matters."

Based on this answer, many reasonably assumed that Sure Start, like the NHS and foreign aid, would be ring-fenced from cuts. Indeed, at PMQs on 2 March 2011, Cameron told the House of Commons that Sure Start funding was protected and that "centres do not need to close". But the truth was otherwise. Shortly after the coalition came to power, the budget for the centres was amalgamated into a new "early intervention grant", which received a real-terms cut of 22.4 per cent.

The result, as I first revealed in 2011, is that centres soon began to close. Today, as Ed Miliband shifts his attention to childcare in the latest stage of his "cost of living" offensive, Labour is rightly highlighting figures showing that 578 have now closed since the election. The Department for Education has responded by insisting that just 45 have closed (which still represents a breach of Cameron's promise), but its own figures suggest otherwise.

Miliband said today: "Millions of parents are facing a childcare crunch. The cost of a nursery place is now the highest in history, at more than £100 a week to cover part-time hours. That means a typical parent doing a part time job would have to work from Monday until Thursday just to cover these costs of childcare. And average costs for a full time place are now rising up to £200 or even more.

"Rising prices have been matched only by falling numbers of places. And hundreds of Sure Start centres have been lost, contributing to a total of 35,000 fewer childcare places under David Cameron. All at a time when the number of children under-4s in England has risen by 125,000.

"Before the last election. David Cameron described Labour as a ‘disgrace’ for warning that the Tories would put Sure Start at risk. He added: 'Not only do we back Sure Start, but we will improve it.'

"This morning they were at it again, boasting that there were more than 3,000 Sure Start Centres across the country. 

"But let’s look at the official government statistics: there are, indeed, 3053 Sure Start Centres. But in April 2010 there were 3,631 Sure Start Centres. That is 578 fewer Sure Start Centres than before the election. That is an average of three Sure Start Centres being lost every single week of this government. And too many of those that remain have lower staffing levels and reduced services."

While the Lib Dems' failure to keep their pledge to vote against higher tuition fees means they are widely derided for their mendacity, the Conservatives have got off lightly so far.  By highlighting the extent to which Cameron misled the public over Sure Start, Labour is rightly seeking to change that.

David Cameron at Demos in January 2010, where he delivered a speech pledging to extend the number of Sure Start centes. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.