As the Tory conference gets under way, one has in all fairness to acknowledge that all governments are occasionally forced to change tack, but this government has turned it into an art form. After a whole series of dizzying about-turns – at least 15 on my count – there aren’t too many exits left, and even if they come up with a new one, can one really expect it to last beyond its immediate expedient use?
Everyone will remember those airbrushed Cameron adverts before the election stating “I will cut the deficit, not the NHS” and “no top-down reorganisation”. Two big (and deliberate) whoppers for a start. But the U-turns have cascaded fast and loose since then.
This will be “the most family-friendly government ever”. Tell that to mothers now facing draconian welfare cuts of another £10bn on top of the original £18bn, which will slice the family budgets of the poorest third of the population by 25% or more, or to the female public sector workers who’ve borne by far the biggest burden of rising unemployment. Cameron promised “a more civilised work-life balance”, but that didn’t stop him taking the axe to Sure Start, child care and the child trust fund. He also promised on child benefit: “I won’t means-test it”, but then did just that.
He promised education maintenance allowances would be kept, but he broke that too. He gave his backing to the pledge to cut child poverty, yet forecasts predict 500,000 more poor children by 2015. He proclaimed that “I’d never do anything to damage disabled children”; but what does he think will be the effect of two-thirds of them losing Disability Living Allowance?
He said there’d be no rise in VAT, but then it was increased sharply to 20%. He launched the Big Society to promote the voluntary sector, but then imposed swingeing grant cuts on charities. He boasted his government would be “the greenest government ever”, but it has turned out the brownest, and he then appoints a new Environment Minister who loathes wind turbines, supports a mass badger cull, and favours the fossil fuel gas over renewables.
He said “any minister planning frontline reductions will be sent straight back to their departments to go away and think again”. So what about the thousands of nurses and police officers who’ve been made redundant? His sidekick said repeatedly “We’re all in this together “, but then with Cameron’s connivance gave 40,000 millionaires a tax cut worth an average £14,000 a year.
And what about that infamous pledge to put Britain through all this misery as a price worth paying to ensure that the national debt would be falling as a proportion of GDP by 2015, when OBR now says that net debt will actually rise by £465bn (which compares with the rise of £319bn throughout the whole of Labour’s 13 years, about which the Tories have made such enormous fuss)?
The one area where a U-turn is absolutely essential is the one area where, as Osborne again reiterated today, there will be no change at all, whatever the price for Britain.