George Osborne and Ed Balls walk through the Members' Lobby before the Queen's Speech at the State Opening of Parliament on June 4, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Osborne refuses to rule out raising VAT after promising £2bn for NHS

The Chancellor says he"doesn't have any plans" to increase the tax: the same phrase he used before the 2010 increase. 

George Osborne's promise of £2bn extra for the NHS is an attempt to neutralise one of Labour's strongest attack lines. By providing new money for the health service in Wednesday's Autumn Statement, the Chancellor hopes to render the opposition's pledge to spend £2.5bn extra irrelevant. In a shameless act of political plagiarism, he used his appearance on the Marr show to announce a further increase: the £1.1bn the government will receive in bank fines over the foreign exchange rate scandal will be used to fund improved GP services (Ed Balls last weekend called for the money to be spent on the NHS). By arguing that the £2bn of new funding has only been made possible by the Tories' "long-term economic plan" and their commitment to deficit reduction, Osborne aims to use Labour's weakness on fiscal responsibility to undermine its strength on the health service (the issue on which it polls best). 

In his own interview on Marr, Balls described the extra £2bn as "crisis money" made necessary by the coalition's "mismanagement" of the service. He also questioned whether it was merely a "one-off bung". But the Tory Treasury Twitter account was quick to reply that the money would be "baselined" (i.e. included in new calculations of future NHS spending) making it a permanent rather than a temporary increase (something confirmed by Osborne in his appearance). 

But the awkward question remains: how will all this be paid for? After Osborne's NHS spending promise, it is even harder to see how he will meet his pledge to eliminate the deficit by the end of the next parliament while simultaneously avoiding further tax rises and cutting taxes by £7.2bn (increasing the personal allowance to £12,500 and the 40p rate threshold to £50,000). Most economists believe that he will fail on at least one of these fronts. 

It was telling, then, that Osborne repeatedly refused to rule out raising VAT, stating that he "doesn't have any plans" to do so: the exact formulation used before the 2010 increase. Given the historic tendency of governments to raise taxes immediately after the election, it is right to be suspicious. But Osborne clearly believes that the Tories' polling strength on the deficit means that they can get away with such fiscal recklessness in a way Labour never could. 

After today's high octane politics, the opposition's hope is that Osborne's intervention will only raise the salience of the NHS and ultimately benefit them. The Chancellor's gamble is that it will achieve the reverse. By at least giving the appearance of providing an answer to the funding crisis (Labour would still spend more) he hopes to deny Balls and Ed Miliband any benefit from running on this issue. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The problem with Theresa May's Brexit message is that isn't true

By refusing to level with the public, May is storing up Blair levels of disillusionment for the future.

You can get an idea of how low-wattage the election is so far from the amount of attention being paid to Boris Johnson, who has returned to the scene, not to talk about the ongoing tensions between the United States and North Korea, but to call Jeremy Corbyn a "mutton-headed mugwump" in a column for the Sun

It's the classic Johnson gambit - a colourful way of appearing to be off-message while reinforcing the central message of the Conservative campaign: that this is an election about Brexit, and that the bigger the majority, the greater the chances that Britain will get a good Brexit deal.

It has the added benefit of punching Labour's biggest bruise: the thumping lead that Theresa May enjoys over Jeremy Corbyn as Britain's preferred Prime Minister. IpsosMori, Britain's oldest pollster, have a poll that sums up the scale of May's advantage: she's currently the most popular PM we've had since IpsosMori started polling: more popular than even than Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair at the peak of their powers. "Poll: May most popular leader in FORTY years" is the Metro's splash. And all of the evidence suggests that it is working, with the Tory lead extending since the election was called.

There's just one small problem, really: May's message isn't true. EU leaders feel the same way about other people's elections as most people do about other people's pets or children: they'll try to accommodate them, sure. But ultimately, they take a distant back seat to their own. There is not a Brexit dividend to be unlocked simply through getting a bigger Conservative majority. Whether May's majority is one, ten or 100, she will face the same trade-offs and the same partners with the same incentives.

There is a bit of excitement this morning about the fact that the Times/YouGov tracker shows that more people (45%) say that Brexit is not working than say it is working (42%). The truth is that the margin of error in all polls is plus or minus three, so that shouldn't be seen as anything more than noise. Every other poll and focus group shows that the bulk of people still have sky-high expectations of Britain's Brexit deal.

Brexit may be a success, but it will involve concessions to our partners in the EU and won't be the cure-all that many people who voted to Leave believe that it will. By refusing to level with the public, May is storing up late-period Blair levels of disillusionment for the future. Not that it matters as far as she is concerned; if the polls are to be believed and I see no reason to disbelieve them, she's headed for a win that means the next time the Opposition could even hope to competitive will be 2027 - by which time she'll be 71 and likely contemplating retirement and the speakers' circuit.

But if you look at everything that's happened to Labour since their promise to have "ended boom and bust", her successors at the top of the Tory party will live to regret her lack of candour.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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