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: