Labour are on the offensive. Ed Balls has claimed that to follow through on the promises made in George Osborne’s Autumn Statement, particularly the pledge to achieve a budget surplus of £23.1bn by 2019-20, and the infamous £7 billion of tax cuts, the Conservatives would have to implement £70 billion of painful cuts to public services, which may also involve raising VAT and/or charging for the NHS. This is in line with Labour’s broader electoral strategy, attacking the Tories on their deep cuts, and on the defence of the NHS. It also sheds light on an internal divide within the Conservative strategy, whether or not to stick to fiscal prudence and claim the economic credibility high ground, or whether to make way for large tax cuts. At the minute they seem to be playing a balancing act with both, and if Labour keeps pushing them on this hot topic, they may have to choose one way or the other. If that choice is forced before the General Election, the Conservatives will either face a great internal battle, or they will find a clear ideological vision for the future. Watch this space…
Defence vs Aid
Speaking of divides within the Conservative party, one of the biggest internal debates that rages on over the last two days is about Cameron’s decision to protect spending on foreign aid but not to ring-fence defence spending. It is worth pointing out that in Balls’ attack on Tory spending cuts (see above), he also pointed out that Labour would spend more on defence than the Tories. This attack came on the same day as General Sir Peter Walls (former Chief of General Staff in the British Army) claimed that defence cuts (10% since 2010) have resulted in Britain being “caught napping” amid the Ukraine and ISIS crises. The 2% debate is reaching fever-pitch (the debate as to whether or not Britain can continue to spend 2% of GDP on defence spending, in line with its NATO commitments), with a Tory revolt due for the end of this week, with dissidents led by MP John Baron tabling a motion urging the House to commit to the 2% defence budget pledge. Meanwhile Deputy PM Nick Clegg attacked Cameron for not ‘coming clean’ on defence spending, arguing that he cannot shrink the state and “somehow pretend that they can fund everything in sight.” On the other side of the coin, The International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill, already passed by MPs, and now approved by peers, is on the verge of becoming law, and will enshrine the 0.7% of GDP pledge on foreign aid. Expect this debate to rumble on between the modernist Cameroon’s who prioritise foreign aid, and the right-wing of the party who fiercely believe in the protection of the realm.
The Education Gamble
The era of Goveism in education has proved highly controversial, but with Miliband scoring points on education by pledging to spend more on British schooling than Cameron, and promising a slash in tuition fees, the Conservative leader has made a bold move in rallying behind Gove’s most hotly debated legacy – free schools. He’s announced 49 more approved free schools by 2016, and vows 500 more by 2020 under a Conservative government. Labour has been quick to respond, reiterating its policy to scrap the Free School Programme, and Tristram Hunt claimed this week that the Free Schools created places in areas that had “already have enough school places.” Will Cameron’s educational gamble prove too divisive? Or will he gain respect for showing some ideological clout and putting his weight behind a project he believes in? Only time will tell.
The Wealth Gap Widens
Alan Milburn’s Social Mobility Commission recently highlighted that the level of elitism and social immobility in Britain was now so acute and severe that it was comparable to ‘social engineering’. This is something Labour and the Conservatives traded blows over, but it was thanks to a long term trend so arguably both parties were to blame. However a report released this week by the Social Market Foundation shows that the rich are 64% better off than before the recession, while the poor are 57% poorer. This may kill once and for all the Tory argument that “we’re all in it together” in the economic recovery, and give backing to Miliband’s cost-of-living crisis arguments, as well as Labour’s consistent narrative about an uneven recovery felt only by those at the top. If Labour can tap into the injustice felt on streets up and down Britain, it could be enough to put Mr Miliband into Number 10 in May.
In the latest BBC Poll of Polls (taken on the 6th of March):
BBC Poll of Polls – CON 33%, LAB 34%, LIB DEM 8%, UKIP 14%, GREEN 6%
Populus – CON 32%, LAB 33%, LIB DEM 9%, UKIP 15%, GREEN 6%
Ashcroft – CON 34%, LAB 30%, LIB DEM 5%, UKIP 15%, GREEN 8%
YouGov – CON 35%, LAB 31%, LIB DEM 8%, UKIP 14%, GREEN 6%
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