David Cameron speaks at a Cameron Direct Q&A session at the Royal Bath and West Show on May 27, 2009. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The pre-election pledges that the Tories are trying to wipe from the internet

"No frontline cuts", "no top-down NHS reorganisations", "no VAT rise" - why the Conservatives are trying to erase all pre-May 2010 speeches and press releases from the internet.

As I reported earlier, the Tories have attempted to erase all pre-May 2010 press releases and speeches from the internet, but what could they possibly have to hide? Here are some suggestions. 

1. No cuts to front-line services

As remarkable as it may seem, David Cameron told Andrew Marr the weekend before the general election that a Conservative government would not cut any front-line services.

What I can tell you is, any cabinet minister, if I win the election, who comes to me and says: "Here are my plans," and they involve front-line reductions, they'll be sent straight back to their department to go away and think again. After 13 years of Labour, there is a lot of wasteful spending, a lot of money that doesn't reach the front line.

Since then, 5,870 NHS nurses, 7,968 hospital beds, a third of ambulance stations, 5,362 firefighters and 6,800 frontline police officers have been cut. 

2. "We have absolutely no plans to raise VAT"

In an interview with Jeremy Paxman on 23 April 2010, Cameron said: "We have absolutely no plans to raise VAT. Our first Budget is all about recognising we need to get spending under control rather than putting up tax."

VAT was subsequently raised from 17.5 per cent to a record high of 20 per cent in George Osborne's emergency Budget.

3. Cameron on child benefit: "I wouldn't means-test it"

At a pre-election Cameron Direct event, the Tory leader issued this "read my lips" pledge: "I'm not going to flannel you, I'm going to give it to you straight. I like the child benefit, I wouldn't change child benefit, I wouldn't means-test it, I don't think that is a good idea." The coalition went on to abolish the benefit for higher earners in the Spending Review and froze it for three years. 

4. NHS: "no more top-down reorganisations"

Perhaps most infamously, the Conservatives repeatedly promised before the general election that there would be no more "top-down reorganisations" of the NHS (Andrew Lansley, Conservative Party press release, 11 July 2007). In a speech at the Royal College of Pathologists on 2 November 2009, Cameron said: "With the Conservatives there will be no more of the tiresome, meddlesome, top-down re-structures that have dominated the last decade of the NHS." 

In his 2006 Conservative conference speech, he said: "So I make this commitment to the NHS and all who work in it. No more pointless reorganisations."

The coalition went on to launch the biggest top-down reorganisation of the service in its history.

5. On Education Maintenance Allowances: "we don't have any plans to get rid of them"

At a Cameron Direct event in January 2010, Cameron 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."

Nine months later, the coalition announced the abolition of 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, in the Spending Review. 

6. Cameron on Sure Start: "Yes, we back Sure Start. It's a disgrace that Gordon Brown has been trying to frighten people about this."

The day before the general election, Cameron pledged to protect Sure Start, the network of children's centres founded by the last Labour government.

Asked for a guarantee that the centres would continue to receive funding, he replied: "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."

In his 2009 Conservative conference speech, he said: "It’s also about emotional support, particularly in those fraught early years before children go to school. Labour understood this and we should acknowledge that. That’s why Sure Start will stay, and we’ll improve it."

Since then, 566 of the centres have been closed, with over half of those still open no longer providing any onsite childcare. 

7. On the Future Jobs Fund: "no plans to change"

In March 2010, Cameron praised the Future Jobs Fund as a "good scheme" and said the Conservatives had  "no plans to change existing Future Jobs Fund commitments". On 24 May 2010, the coalition announced its abolition (only for a subsequent Department for Work and Pensions study to show that it had been an unambiguous success, with a net benefit to the economy of £7,750 per participant) and replaced it with the ineffective Work Programme, later found to be "worse than doing nothing". 

8. Cameron on green taxes: "[they] need to go up"

While recently pledging to "roll-back" green taxes, Cameron took a very different line during his early hug-a husky phase. On 29 October 2006 he told the BBC's Politics Show: "I think green taxes as a whole need to go up". He also told Newsnight on 3 October: "We’ve said publicly, we’ve committed that we think green taxes should take a bigger share of overall taxes."

In a speech at the Tories' local election launch on 17 April 2008, he said: "Our message in this local election campaign is simple: vote blue, go green - and save money. It's been our campaign slogan for the last three elections. Why? Because it goes to the heart of what Conservatives believe. And because that's the kind of change people really want."

9. Osborne on bank bonuses: "totally unacceptable"

In an interview with the Guardian published on 14 August 2009, George Osborne said: "It is totally unacceptable for bank bonuses to be paid on the back of taxpayer guarantees. It must stop."

Not only did he fail to keep his pledge to ban bonuses at state-owned banks, he is now taking legal action against the EU commission over its plan to cap payments. 

10. And finally...Cameron on transparency in 2007

"It's clear to me that political leaders will have to learn to let go. Let go of the information that we've guarded so jealously." 

Speech at Google Zeitgeist Conference, 11 October 2007


Now listen to George discussing why the Conservatives have tried to erase these pledges on the NS Podcast:

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why I’m thinking of joining the Labour Party

There’s a lot to admire in the direction Jeremy Corbyn is taking the party – perhaps it’s time to get involved.

Why I’m leaving Labour”, as Owen Hatherley remarked a few days ago, appears to be the new “why I’m leaving London”. However, aside from a few high(ish) profile departures, the bigger story is the net increase in membership of 90,000 that Labour has enjoyed since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. Indeed, the last few weeks have got me seriously considering whether I should add to these impressive numbers and join the party myself.

For me, one of the most cheering pieces of news since Corbyn’s victory was the convening of an advisory committee to shadow chancellor John McDonnell, including policy and academic heavyweights such as Mariana Mazzucato, Ann Pettifor, Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty. It was a clear indication that some fresh and serious thought was going to be put into the creation of a plan for remaking and rejuvenating the British economy. The early signs are that Labour will be offering a dynamic, high-tech economy of the future, with good pay and job security at its heart, which will stand in sharp contrast to the miserable Randian dystopia George Osborne has been pushing the country into during his time at the Treasury.

Also refreshing has been Corbyn’s use of Prime Minister’s Questions to give a voice to those affected by austerity. Given that our media and political class is disproportionately populated by people from privileged backgrounds, it’s really important that an extra effort is made to ensure that we hear first-hand from those bearing the brunt of these policies. It’s right in principle, and it turns out to be good politics as well. Because apparently many Conservative MPs are too stupid to realise that responding to the concerns of working class people with loud, derisive braying merely provides the public with a neat and powerful illustration of whose side each party is on.

Corbyn has taken a lot of flak in the media, and from MPs on the Labour right, for his response to the Paris attacks. But as someone who researches, teaches and writes on British foreign policy, Middle East politics and security issues, my admiration for the Labour leader has only grown in recent days.  

In the atmosphere immediately after a terrorist atrocity, a discourse emerges where caring about the victims and being serious about dealing with the threat are taken to be synonymous with advocating military responses and clampdowns on civil liberties, irrespective of the fact that fourteen years of pursuing this approach under the “war on terror” has only served to make the problem far worse. At times like these it takes a great deal of courage to articulate a careful, cautious approach emphasising non-military forms of action that address root causes and whose effects may be less dramatic and immediate. Many people were simply not in the mood to hear this sort of thing from Corbyn, but his policies are objectively more likely to make us safer, and I admire him for not being intimidated into silence despite the gallons of vitriol that have been poured on him.

In general, on national security, there is something heavily gendered about the narrative that casts the alpha male Cameron keeping Britain safe versus the dithering milquetoast Corbyn who doesn't understand the harsh realities. We reached the nadir of this stone age machismo during the last election campaign when Very Serious Jeremy Paxman put it to Ed Miliband that he couldn’t have Vladimir Putin in a fight.  After the disasters of the last decade and a half, the time is right to articulate a more intelligent, sophisticated alternative to the expensive, counterproductive militarism of the Conservative Party and the Labour right wing.

The question of whether Corbyn can win an election is certainly one that preoccupies me. He will struggle to attract voters to his right just as Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham or Liz Kendall would have struggled to win back votes Labour lost to the SNP and the Greens. Enthusing and rallying the perhaps 30 per cent of the electorate who are broadly on the left is one thing, but adding the other 6-7 per cent that you need to win an election is another challenge altogether. Corbyn and his team have been on a steep learning curve since their shock victory in September, and they urgently need to clarify their message and improve their media strategy. Almost all the corporate press are bound to remain hostile, but there are ways to provide them with as little ammunition as possible.

More importantly, Corbyn’s team need to find ways of connecting directly with the public and bring them actively into what he's trying to do. In the current anti-politics mood, an opposition party based on a genuine, engaged mass movement could be a formidable force. Initiatives like “Momentum” will need to make quick and substantial progress.

Fundamentally, Corbyn’s Labour has to do what everyone concerned with genuine social progress has had to do throughout history: articulate points of view that go against prevailing orthodoxy, and do so in as persuasive a way as possible. By definition, these are battles against the odds. But you can't win them if you don't fight them. And for me, and I think most people on Corbyn's part of the left, five years of austerity have taken us beyond the point where we can accept the least worst version of the status quo. That prospect has simply become too painful for too many people.

So will I join? I’m still unsure. Without doubt there will be times when the leadership needs constructive, even robust criticism, and as a writer and researcher I may feel more free to articulate that outside of the Labour tribe. But whatever choice I make, the point for me is that this isn’t really about Jeremy Corbyn so much as the wider movement he represents, demanding a real change of course on politics, economics and foreign policy. That collective effort is something I will certainly continue to play an active part in.

David Wearing researches UK-Saudi-Gulf relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies, where he teaches courses on Middle East politics and international political economy. He sits on the steering committee of Campaign Against Arms Trade.