David Cameron delivers a speech on welfare in Hove, East Sussex, on February 17, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Tories woo the grey vote again with pledge to protect pensioner benefits

Cameron's promise creates a new dividing line with Labour and the Lib Dems, who would means-test some payments. 

In the last year, the Tories have done nothing to disguise their intention to woo elderly voters (the most likely age group to turn out). They have introduced high-value bonds for the over-65s and have pledged to maintain the "triple-lock" on the state pension, so that it increases by the rate of inflation, average earnings or 2.5 per cent, whichever is highest. 

Tomorrow, David Cameron will go further by promising to again ring-fence all universal pensioner benefits, such as the winter fuel allowance, free bus passes and free TV licences. Some senior Conservatives, such as Iain Duncan Smith, have argued that the payments should be means-tested as part of a balanced austerity programme. But Cameron has resolved that the financial savings that would be made from doing so are too small for the Tories to risk paying a political price. He also appears to have rejected a Policy Exchange proposal to force pensioners to opt-in to winter fuel payments. "Comfort, independence, companionship, health – these aren’t luxuries; they’re what people who have worked and saved all their lives deserve," he will say tomorrow. "And think what we would give up if we did take them away – the principle that if you’ve done the right thing you will get the benefits of living in Britain." The pledge means that the entirety of the promised £12bn in welfare cuts will fall on the working age population. 

The Tories' stance contrasts with that of Labour, which has pledged to remove winter fuel payments from the wealthiest 5 per cent of pensioners, and the Lib Dems, who would also means-test free TV licences. Conservative strategists regard their distinctive pledge to protect the benefits as an important shield against Ukip, which draws greatest support from the elderly. Cameron will portray Labour and the Lib Dems' plans as the thin end of the wedge: "The truth is this: the big savings will only come by restricting these benefits far more aggressively – or by abolishing these benefits altogether. That’s why I have to warn people – beware of politicians promising just to cut one or two of these benefits, and only by a bit. Once they have started chipping away at these benefits, believe me, before long, they’ll start getting rid of them altogether."

That the Tory move comes in the same week that Labour is expected to pledge to cut tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 (potentially funded through curbs on pension tax relief) sharpens the generational divide between the two parties. Labour's hope is that its offer to young people (to be published in a separate manifesto) will motivate more to turn out, while also appealing to parents and grandparents who fear for the former's future. But based on past elections, opposition MPs will fear that it's the Tories who will get most bang for their buck. 

The contrast between the treatment of young people (who saw tuition fees trebled, the Education Maintenance Allowance abolished and the Future Jobs Fund scrapped) and the elderly is, of course, another reminder that those who vote get rewarded. In 2010, 76 per cent of pensioners turned out, compared to 65 per cent of the total electorate and just 44 per cent of 16-24-year-olds. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.