Thursday, April 08, 2010
Conservatives Have Won Round 1 But Will They Win Round 2?
We have had the hilarity of health service spending being protected by "a £1bn cut in sick leave among NHS staff" (Labour). We have had an extravagant pledge of "a right to a new school" (Tories). We have had free care for the elderly (Labour), tax cuts for marriage (Tories), new trains for all paid for by more potholes (Liberal Democrats), no rise in VAT (Tories), no more council taxes (Liberal Democrats) and any cancer drug you like paid for by holding down national insurance on the NHS (Tories). Labour proposes to give football supporters their clubs, a £1m Green Bank and a living wage.
But the real action so far has circulated around the NI question. Darling proposed to increase it by 1% in his budget to help reduce the debt mountain. Cameron has opportunistically forgotten about his own number one priority and has switched tack to resist Labour's foul imposition. What is more he has suggested the amount to be raised- £6bn- should be raised by 'efficiency savings'. As Darling pointed out in The World at One, if he had included such a measure with such a nebulous cost justification in his budget he would have been laughed to scorn. But election campaigns are different: you can lie and then lie your way again out it. Cameron and Osborne know they are doing this, just as Brown and co. know they will probably do something similar later on.
The Tories have just struck lucky but it's a gamble. Labour have decided to stick with the NI issue and try to unpick it for voters so the mendacity of the Conservatives can be revealed. If they succeed they will win the second round and more. But voters- reassured by a tax averted- might not listen and Labour might have to cut their losses and move on. The endorsement of the Tory position by business leaders is damaging to Labour but is scarcely surprising. NI increases would indeed affect jobs and the Tories have been clever in focusing on this while avoiding the key issue of how it can be paid for. Busines, in any case, naturally cleaves to the Conservatives and have merely 'returned home' after a decade long etra-marital affair with New Labour.