Tim Montgomerie: Before you suggest that he should open the window and jump, it may be worth noting that he’s on the ground floor.
Responses to Prime Minister’s Questions every Wednesday are always interesting, sometimes sinister – and sometimes unintentionally hilarious.
Yesterday (Wednesday), David Cameron and Ed Miliband were tearing chunks out of each other over the National Health Service, with the NHS in Wales coming under particularly heavy scrutiny.
In the midst of this, Tim Montgomerie, editor of the ConservativeHome blog and comment editor of The Times*, tweeted the following:
He is of course doubly wrong. Firstly, his tweet was made on the same day that a former cancer sufferer who was cured by NHS Wales expressed outrage that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has smeared the service and demanded an apology from Hunt to the doctors who saved his life.
Secondly, he seems blissfully unaware of the fact that the Tory-led Coalition Government proved – only yesterday – that it can’t look after the economy. This administration’s reason for existence was to reduce the national deficit to nothing by the next general election in 2015. We found out very quickly that this was not going to happen, but yesterday we learned that the deficit is actually rising again, partly because the Tory squeeze on workers’ wages has meant none of the people who have been put to work on a pittance have been able to pay any taxes.
The Treasury’s comment – that the government’s long-term economic plan is working – showed very clearly that the Tory-led Coalition is in no fit state to run the economy.
Therefore, by Mr Montgomerie’s own admission, it is in no fit state to look after the NHS.
It seems that ministers are more likely to benefit from NHS treatment.
*ConservativeHome is a Tory-oriented political blog that is slightly less influential than Vox Political – but still worth reading if you want to laugh at the things these people believe. The Times used to be a newspaper until it was bought by Rupert Murdoch.
Cart crash: In line with the theme explored in this article, not only is it likely that George Osborne won’t even have the right vehicle to carry his budget – he’ll probably crash it, too.
Part-time Chancellor Gideon George Osborne will be having another go at delivering a budget next week; while we can all hope he does better than the last four wrecks, experience – and a voodoo poll on the ConservativeHome website – suggests the opposite.
The poll asks readers to prioritise possible policies on a scale of one to 10, where one is “low” and 10 is “high”. The policies themselves?
“Cut spending further, so that the deficit can be reduced faster”. Clearly this is nonsense. Osborne’s massive spending cuts have, so far, delivered tiny reduction in the national deficit of only £7 billion – from £118 billion to £111 billion. In four years. Clearly, he needs to change his ways.
Other possibilities include cutting the higher rates of tax (or raising the threshold for them) – helping the very rich; extending National Insurance cuts for employers taking on young workers – helping employers; cutting business rates – helping businesspeople; and privatising more state assets, such as roads – helping rich investors and penalising the poor.
Other ideas intended to harm the poor include regionalising public sector pay, extending the freeze on public sector pay rises or cutting public sector pay, lowering the benefit cap to less than the current £26,000 per family and lowering a cap on broader social security spending that is yet to be introduced (it is scheduled for 2015).
All of the measures mentioned in the above two paragraphs will harm the British economy, rather than helping it. If Osborne includes any of them, he will deserve censure (if not prosecution, although it might be hard to find an offence on which to charge him after five years of Tory/Tory Democrat tinkering with the legal system).
By now, dear readers, some of you will be sitting with your blood boiling at this insolent blogger who’s telling you your prized policy ideas won’t work. You’re probably itching to demand what I would do to address the challenge.
I would have examined the economy from a different angle. Let’s look at it metaphorically.
Imagine the British economy is a haulage lorry or, better yet, a horse and cart. Tories are pushing us back towards pre-industrialism so we might as well get used to the idea. Either way, the job in hand is to take provisions to different parts of the locality that will allow the people there to prosper – and return with a share of that prosperity, to be distributed equally for the benefit of everyone.
Firstly, you need fuel. This is where we can prove that Osborne’s austerity is completely useless. How far can a lorry travel with an empty fuel tank? How far will a horse pull a cart if you don’t feed it? Not very far at all.
Then you need to make sure you’re providing the right kind of fuel. A diesel lorry won’t go far on petrol or vegetable oil before it starts to complain; give a horse the wrong kind of food and it will develop who-knows-what kind of digestion-related illness and keel over. This is what happens to an economy that is over-reliant on – for example – a single economy sector such as finance, or an economic ‘bubble’ like the housing growth triggered by Help to Buy (although this scheme could work well with the correct controls, in the same way you can probably keep a horse working with the correct medicine).
The result in both cases – no fuel or wrong fuel – is the same: Your supplies don’t get out to your people and they suffer as a result. The last four years of Tory/Tory Democrat rule has proved this.
In non-metaphorical terms: There must be investment, and it must be the right kind.
Then, of course, there is the question of what you have in the back of your lorry (or on the cart). You must be providing your people with what they need, otherwise there’s no point in making the journey and the fuel/food in which you have invested – in fact, the whole journey – will have been wasted (like Osborne’s last four budget attempts). Your choice of supplies will depend on what your people are doing – what crops they are growing or products they are making – and on whether these can be traded with your neighbours. If they have been misled into producing wares that can’t be traded, what good is that?
Get it right and you’ll be able to make a return trip laden with goods and supplies that will – with a bit of wise distribution and trade – help build up your society, meaning that the load might not be so great on the next trip. This means less fuel/horse feed will be needed and there won’t be as large a load in goods to be redistributed on the return journey (although an expanding economy means there might be farther to travel, so this must be recognised in the amount of fuel to be used).
That’s about as simple a metaphor as I can devise at the moment.
If I had to predict what will happen on Wednesday, though, I would probably expect Osborne to be demanding that we leave the lorry in the garage (or the horse in the yard), and struggle out on foot with all our burdens on our own back.
Not so much “all in it together” as “everyone for themselves” – and that’s how we’ll all be ruined.
Like it or not, politics in the UK is far more nuanced today than it has been at any time in the last 100 years. How can it be anything else? All the main political parties are trying to occupy the same, narrow, centre-right ground.
Even so, one man has emerged as the pantomime villain of British politics: Iain Duncan Smith.
ConservativeHome readers regularly vote him into the top slot as the most popular cabinet minister – but it seems that anyone who has ever had dealings with his Department for Work and Pensions has the exact opposite opinion of him. He has been nicknamed IDS, but this blog calls him RTU instead – it stands for ‘Returned To Unit’, a military term for serving soldiers who have failed in officer training and have been returned in disgrace to their original unit (the implication being that his claim of a glittering military career is about as accurate as his claims to have been educated at the University of Perugia and Dunchurch College of Management).
Here at Vox Political, we believe that this man’s tenure at the DWP will go down in history as one of the greatest disasters of British political history – not just recent history, but for all time. It is our opinion that his benefit-cutting policies have done more to accelerate the impoverishment of hard-working British people than the worst recession in the last century could ever have done by itself.
We believe the assessment regime for sickness and disability benefits, over which he has presided, has resulted in so many deaths that it could be considered the worst genocide this country has faced since the Harrowing of the North, almost 1,000 years ago.
That will be his legacy.
On Sunday, he will appear on the BBC’s Sunday Politics show to answer your questions about his work. The show’s Facebook page has invited readers to submit their own questions and this seems an appropriate moment to highlight some of those that have been submitted – but are never likely to be aired; RTU is far too vain to allow hyper-critical questioning to burst his bubble.
Here is our choice of just some questions he won’t be answering:
“Why [has he] decided to cover up the number of suicides due to [his] benefit cuts?” “Why is he killing the elderly and the disabled?” “Does he have a figure (number of deaths) before he accepts a policy might not be working?”
“Universal Jobmatch, Universal Credit, WCA reforms, PIP; are there any policies and projects he has tried to implement that haven’t been a massive shambolic waste of money, causing distress and sanctions to so many people?”
“Would he like to comment on the huge amount of people wrongly sanctioned, and would he like to explain why whistleblowers from the JCP have admitted there are sanction targets?”
“Ask him if he believes a comparison can be drawn between the government’s persecution of the sick, disabled and mentally ill and the ‘Action T4’ instigated by the Nazis in 1939. I am sure the tow-the-line BBC will give him sight of the questions before he gets on the show so he will have time to look it up.”
“People are now waiting months for their appeals to be heard and the meantime their benefits are stopped. What does he expect them to live on? Why [are] he and his Department pursuing this deliberate war against some of our most poor and vulnerable people?”
“Could he comment on the massive amount of money written off due to failures with the Universal Credit?”
“Why are we paying private companies to test disabled and sick people when one phone call to their consultant or GP would provide all relevant details they need?”
“[Does] he have any intention of putting his money where his mouth is, [living] on £53/week, and how does he square that with the £39 on expenses he claimed for breakfast? Half a million people signed the call for him to do so.”
“Why are full time carers who look after loved ones only paid £59.75 a week? Less than JSA, indeed less than any other benefit! they save the tax payers millions, and yet have still been hammered by the changes in housing benefit, council tax benefit and of course the hated bedroom tax.”
“Ask him about the Universal Jobsearch website and the fake jobs on the site. As a jobseeker, this site need[s] better monitoring.”
“Ask him if the bedroom tax was really just a deceitful way to remove all social housing and force people into private rentals for the rich to claim housing benefits paid to claimants.”
“Does he think that paying subsidies to supermarkets and other private companies via welfare benefits because they do not pay well enough is what government should be doing?”
Some of the questioners address Mr… Smith directly:
“Why do you keep testing people with incurable progressive illnesses? Once found unfit to work, [they] never will get any better so to retest is stressful, cruel, and not needed.”
“Why are you telling Jobcentre Plus staff to get ESA claimants and JSA claimants to declare themselves self-employed, then reeling them in with the promise of an extra £20 per week? Is this why the unemployment rate fell last quarter?”
“You say you want the sick off what you call the scrap heap but with few jobs out there, do you mean off the scrap heap into the destitute gutter?”
“Do you feel remotely guilty for the lives you’ve ruined? the lies you’ve told? The dead people on your hands? Do you feel any shame at all that you’ve done all this and more? Do you sleep well at night knowing there are people who can’t feed their children because of you?”
“As a committed Roman Catholic, how does your conscience deal with you supporting and advantaging privileged millionaires while you personally and systematically further impoverish the poor and disadvantaged?”
“Does he feel ashamed to have caused so much suffering, because he flipping well should!”
There were many more questions that were not appropriate for repetition.
To see what he does have to say for himself, tune in to Sunday Politics on BBC1, starting at 11am on March 9 (which is, as you might have guessed, Sunday).
We never knew: Perhaps Michael Gove is more familiar with the reading matter behind him, but it seems he may even be acquainted with this blog!
Whoever would have suspected that Michael Gove reads Vox Political?
We come to this conclusion from the reaction of the Education Secretary and Gollum impressionist to Theresa May’s ConservativeHome speech, in which she outlined her belief that the plebs’ human rights should be for the chop, as outlined in our article on Sunday. We may deduce he gets help with some of the longer words.
It seems that, in a meeting of Conservative cabinet members, Gove made it clear that prominent Tories’ efforts to promote themselves as possible leaders (precious) were playing into the hands of the party’s opponents (gollum, gollum).
The article itself has been read by fewer than 10,000 people at the time of writing, but Gove may have enjoyed a rare moment of intelligence and realised that the viral reach has been something in the order of two or three million (and it does this columnist a world of good just to type that).
Of course, other blogs exist as well, and it’s possible that even the mainstream press may have enjoyed some frivolity with the Home Secretary’s attempt to be a social climber (in the face of her own government’s elimination of social mobility of any kind).
The cumulative effect on the public consciousness has been huge.
Gollum’s – sorry, Gove’s – warning presaged a sterner telling-off by the Tory Party’s new general election guru, Lynton Crosby, who warned them all to decide whether they want to be “commentators” or “participants” in the 2015 election.
This gentleman then stuffed his own foot very firmly into his mouth and shot himself in it, such was the enormity of the gaffe that followed.
At his urging, comedy Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled what we are being asked to believe will be the bedrock of the party’s campaigning over the next two years.
Try not to laugh.
It’s worse even than the Liberal Democrats’ silly ‘message script’ that they brought out last December.
A 10-point checklist of Tory achievements since they came into office in 2010!
Already, I know what you’re thinking.
You’re thinking, “How in Heaven’s name have they managed to come up with as many as 10 achievements?”
Don’t get your hopes up!
It really provides a strong insight into the Tory mind, that they consider some of these disasters to be achievements.
But don’t take our word for it. We’ll take them one at a time so you can have a look for yourself:
1. They have cut the fiscal deficit by a quarter. Nobody actually believes this, though. Any “achievement” on the deficit that is reached via one-off events like the Royal Mail pensions raid is unsustainable. It makes for good PR in the right-wing press but anybody with an ounce of sense will see right through it. Also, most of the savings have been carried out by cutting support for the poorest people in the country while the richest are getting – as the Labour Party has hammered into us with such tedious regularity since last year’s budget statement – a tax cut. And in the background, the national debt continues to rise, as Tory policy dictates it must if they are to justify their continued attack on State structures.
2. They have reduced immigration by a third. That’s right; talented people from foreign countries no longer wish to live and work in the UK because the Conservatives and their policies have made it such an unattractive place.
3. There are one million new private sector jobs. There is also so much wrong with this that it is hard to know where to start. Firstly, 200,000 of those jobs were formerly in the public sector but were re-defined by the Conservatives in order to make up the numbers. Secondly, anyone on Workfare, Mandatory Work Activity or whatever they’re calling it today is automatically defined as being in work, despite the fact that the only pay they receive is their state benefit. Thirdly, the government is, by definition, a public sector organisation and should not, therefore, be trying to claim the credit for the creation of private sector employment; only private sector employers can legitimately do that.
4. They vetoed an EU treaty for the first time. Clearly the Conservatives are hoping enough time has passed for us to forget that David Cameron made the UK and everyone in it look like a bunch of fools in front of the other 26 EU states when he did this, because their reaction was simply to bump us off the negotiating table and sign an accord between themselves. All he did was sideline the UK and harm British interests in Europe.
5. They have cut the EU budget for the first time. Not strictly true as it was Angela Merkel’s influence that led to the budget cut. We may also reasonably ask why this is being hailed as an achievement when the British contribution to that budget is still on the rise and has not been cut.
6. They have promised an in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU (if they win the next general election). That’s right – rather than achieve anything useful, like negotiating a new structure for the European Union that benefits all of us, the Conservatives intend to stand at the sidelines, make unreasonable demands, and then pander to their own Euro-sceptics by offering the people only one choice – stay or go. The simple fact is that the UK needs to be a part of the European trading community to survive; the run-up to the referendum means the press will be able to feed a mountain of claptrap to the people in order to influence them into a ‘go’ vote, even though it will put us at a huge disadvantage. But the Tories will have seen off UKIP, which is something they are desperate to do after the Eastleigh by-election. Oh yes, and the referendum is conditional on the Conservatives winning the 2015 election outright. It’s electoral blackmail.
7. They are enacting new laws to place householders on the lowest energy tariff. The problem with this is that energy companies can only provide the low tariffs that are currently available because more people pay the higher, average prices. If they are required by law to put everyone on the lowest possible payment scheme, the price of that scheme will rise. It is economically-illiterate nonsense but it looks good to the uninformed.
8. They have created a single-tier pension scheme. This is the Tory compulsion to make things simpler at work again – because simplifying money matters means the poor will be worse-off. In simple language, then, the vast majority of people who become eligible for their pensions after 2060 will lose out. This is an attack on the young.
9. They are introducing a £75,000 cap on the costs of long-term care. On the face of it, this is good, because 16 per cent of over-65s will benefit. However, the recommendation was for a cap of between £25-50,000 – which would have benefited 37 per cent of over-65s, more than double the number the Tories are actually going to help. Around 120,000 pensioners will lose out every year.
10. They are taking two million people out of tax, with an average £600 cut in bills for 24 million people. This is, of course, before the impact of the Tories’ benefit cuts is factored in. For example, look at Iain Duncan Smith’s decision to freeze benefit increases at one per cent for the next three years, no matter how high inflation rises. This will plunge 200,000 children into poverty. The Children’s Society calculates that a single parent with two children, working on an average wage as a nurse would lose £424 a year by 2015. A couple with three children and one earner, on an average wage as a corporal in the British Army, would lose £552 a year by 2015. Now add in the effect of the benefit cap that will be introduced next month, the bedroom tax, the council tax reduction scheme in England; many people will be refused the Personal Independence Payment and Universal Credit under their new rules, just as many are being refused Employment and Support Allowance now (wrongly). If a cumulative impact assessment was carried out, the effect on those two million people who no longer have to pay Income Tax – not indirect taxes like VAT, road tax, and so on – will be unequivocally negative.
This is not a list of achievements.
It is a list of staggering failures.
Ed Miliband was right to ask, in today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, whether they could organise anything in a brewery.
Instead of a show of pride, the Conservatives should be ashamed.
It seems David Cameron didn’t make such a good job of revitalising Conservatism after all.
Three Cabinet ministers have gone to Tory Blogsite ConservativeHome to vent their frustration at the comedy Prime Minister’s refusal to listen to their concerns about Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill. “One was insistent the Bill must be dropped,” the blog post by Tim Montgomerie states. “Another said Andrew Lansley must be replaced. Another likened the NHS reforms to the poll tax,” which was disastrous for the Tories in 1990.
So you see, they’re all in it together (as the saying goes) when the going is easy, but once the headwinds start coming in, the rifts start to show.
And now we have three Cabinet ministers splitting from their PM and his Health Secretary. Does anybody remember a time in the mid-1990s when John Major had a similar problem with three members of his Cabinet? He said at the time: “You have three… members of the Cabinet who actually resign… I could bring in other people. But where do you think most of this poison is coming from? From the dispossessed and the never-possessed. You can think of ex-ministers who are going around causing all sorts of trouble. We don’t want another three more of the b*st*rds out there.”
That seems to be exactly what Comedy David has to deal with, though: “Three more of the b*st*rds”. From his point of view, at least.
His loyalty to his Health Secretary (and former boss at the Conservative Research Department) might be praiseworthy in another context. Here, it seems likely to split his party – because, when members of the Cabinet start to rebel, the writing’s on the wall.
Look at Major’s premiership. With him, the problem was Europe. Right-wingers in his Cabinet caused disruption that became an ideological rift, at a time when New Labour was on the rise. Ministers were caught having extramarital affairs and accepting cash for questions. His party became associated with greed and arrogance and the public deserted it, leaving it in the backwaters of British politics for more than a decade.
One only has to glance at the ‘Comments’ column of Mr Montgomerie’s blog to see that the rifts are still there; Cameron only ever succeeded in papering over them.
The Health Bill is hugely divisive: “Abandoning the bill is not an option – it’s philosophically right, and killing it would give Miliband a huge boost,” claims one (deluded, in my opinion) correspondent.
But another says: “It has suffered death by a thousand amendments. It has become an incoherent mess.”
Another simply asks: “Is the bill the new longest suicide note in history?”
Many have taken the opportunity to voice their opinions about other issues; once a split has been identified, they’ll pour all their grievances through the gap.
Europe remains a hot topic: “The Conservatives have already lost the next general election because of the EU and the false promise that Cameron made to get votes for his party. It is quite plain now that he did not intend for there to be a referendum on the EU and has reneged on the voters – they won’t vote for him again,” according to one correspondent.
The popularity (or not) of individual members of the government is still creating splits: “The fact that [Oliver] Letwin was so heavily involved does, and has, worried me,” writes another. “The guy is very bright, but not in a way people on the street would appreciate, or like. He was also heavily involved in ‘bomb proofing’ the Poll Tax legislation was he not?”
The crucial problem for the Conservatives now is the harm this has done to their electability – a problem that was due to worsen with the publication of a report by the right-of-centre thinktank Reform, saying the government’s entire ‘reform’ of public services is being undermined by the Department of Health’s management of NHS changes.
According to The Guardian, “The Scorecard report on 10 government departments with responsibility for different areas of public sector reform also singles out the prime minister for criticism for personally intervening with detailed promises on issues such as waiting times and nurses visiting patients’ beds every hour. The criticisms by Reform will be particularly damaging because they accuse the health bill of causing exactly the opposite of what it is intended to achieve – holding back reform of the NHS and damaging services for patients.”
Tories like power, and they’ll turn on anything that might get in the way. “The plan needs to be to win a working majority in 2015, and prevent Prime Minister Miliband,” as yet another ConservativeHome correspondent put it.
But Mr Cameron likes power too – even the semblance of it that he’s got now. So, even if he can’t get his legislation passed with any degree of confidence in it, he’ll cling on to what he’s got for all he’s worth.
I reckon we’re looking at another three years of ‘lame duck’ leadership before the electorate can take him out and (metaphorically) shoot him.
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