It’s going to be interesting to see how the impending cuts to tax credits impact on the Tories. David Davis has raised concerns that this may well be this government’s poll tax, in reference to the damage done to the Thatcher Government following its introduction in 1989.
On Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning show, David Cameron rejected any suggestion that he would re-visit the plan, and today Andrew Neil interviewed Conservative ministers Matt Hancock and David Gauke, both of whom struggled to defend the cuts, which are estimated to result in a loss of £1300 for some of Britain’s poorest workers. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt even went so far as to say that the cuts were an important cultural change that would encourage people to work as hard as the Americans and the Chinese!
Labour MP Frank Field, who is on the right of the party and is very highly regarded by the Tories for his work on welfare, was particularly scathing when the announcement was made. He said:
“In the long run up to the general election and after the general election, the Chancellor said the Tory party were the party of strivers and we were the party of welfare. And what’s amazing for me is that I don’t think we’ve had a more astute political chancellor in my lifetime and yet by centring the biggest cuts of all on tax credits, he actually blows up that image about the Tory party as the party of strivers. So that for example, if he wins today, over three million people will be worse off by £1200 a pound a year – some much more than that.”
All of this is taking place against a backdrop of George Osborne pinching those policies from Labour’s 2015 manifesto (I’ve written about this before here) that create the illusion of a Tory party tacking towards the centre. This morning’s announcement at the Conservative Party’s annual conference that Lord Adonis was resigning the Labour whip in the Lords to head up an infrastructure commission, an initiative initially proposed by Labour, and the announcement on business rates in England are just two examples of where Osborne has cherry-picked the content of Miliband’s doomed offer to the country in the spring.
But will these announcements by the Tories be enough to draw the sting from the negativity surrounding the tax credit cuts? I certainly don’t think so. Those announcements are the stuff of Westminster Village conversation. The Sun who are no friend of the Labour party, have even begun a campaign to overturn (or at least cushion the blow of) the cuts and when people begin to feel their impact in their pockets there will surely be consequences at the ballot box. Luckily for George, the heir apparent, the big one isn’t until 2020, hence his eagerness to act now. It’s just a shame they hadn’t been more open when asked prior to this year’s election. It’s not as if they weren’t asked, as Andrew Neill made clear to Matt Hancock.