We all know about Nick Clegg’s broken promises but what about David Cameron’s? Before the election, the Prime Minister promised not to raise VAT, not to cut child benefit and not to cut tax credits for low earners. His excuse that the public finances were in an “even worse” state than he thought won’t wash because, well, they weren’t.
It was this point that Ed Miliband challenged Cameron on at today’s PMQs. What began as a sombre affair after the news that six British soldiers are missing, presumed dead, in Afghanistan, soon became a much livelier encounter.
Cameron’s defence of the cuts to child benefit and to tax credits was to insist that they were necessary to deal with the “massive budget deficit” the government inherited. But he had no ready answer to the charge that he had broken his word. Before the election, as Miliband noted, Cameron said:
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.
Should Labour continue to play this riff, it could damage the Prime Minister. As the NHS debacle has demonstrated, voters don’t like broken promises (in this case, Cameron’s pledge to put an end to “top-down reorganisations”).
The PM also had no good answer to the charge that the government is punishing low earners who can’t find extra work by withdrawing their tax credits. Miliband cited the case of a delivery driver who currently works 20 hours a week but is unable to work 24 (the new minimum required to receive tax credits). As a result, he will lose all of his tax credits. Cameron’s explanation was that single parents need to work at least 16 hours a week to receive tax credits, why shouldn’t a couple work 24? But at a time when so many are struggling to find work of any kind, this was a strikingly unsympathetic response.