This article is from the August issue of Total Politics
Summer recesses almost always come just in the nick of time for modern governments, but David Cameron and George Osborne must be approaching this one with the keen anticipation of men in a desert who finally catch sight of an oasis.
The mood at Westminster is fractious and grumpy, but these mid-year, mid-term blues are mighty difficult to read. Unless one can formulate the exact question that will be before the electorate in May 2015, it’s difficult to assess the current state of play.
Let me have a stab at it – it will have something to do with sharing the proceeds of growth. It’s possible that the cuts will have taken such a toll on public services by then that we’ll be hollering for more spending, but I see no sign of it just yet. The debate about the cuts that once dominated every edition of the Today programme has all but evaporated with the onset of the eurozone debt crisis.
So, who has the upper hand? I may have been one of the few hacks who thought Ed Miliband’s last conference speech was interesting, but the crisis in capitalism is fertile ground for Labour if he can flesh it out in a way that makes reform tangible.
But the Tories, stung by their renewed reputation as friends of the rich, will no doubt be brutally frank; tax cuts for the working poor and a massive kick where it hurts for the welfare classes: “You’ve had the pain, now we’ll give you the gain.” It won’t be pretty, but it may be effective.
Received wisdom at Westminster is that Cameron’s attack on Jimmy Carr was a mistake, because it opened him up to the charge of hypocrisy. This may be true, but I still think it was a smart move. The public likes the PM of the day to articulate its rage on such issues, and it can’t have been a coincidence that this was the moment Cameron’s poll ratings began to tick back upwards again.
In any event, this brings me neatly to a subject that has long confused me, which is the continued presence in this country of a large group of people who pay very little tax despite being, in many cases, staggeringly wealthy. Of course, I’m talking about the non-doms. Why are some people allowed to enjoy the benefits of living here while sheltering much of their worldwide income in offshore tax havens?
If the answer is because they spend money here (as it seems to be), then why not let all rich people off paying tax, so that they can buy more Bentleys?
No. Exactly. It’s a silly argument, and surely an open goal for one party or another sooner or later.
It’s often said that our political leaders all look and sound the same, but a lesser-known fact is how similar their wives are.
I only recently met Justine Miliband, but you may not be surprised to hear that she’s witty, intelligent and fun. In this, she’s very like Samantha Cameron – pretty much everyone at Westminster is fond of her – and, indeed, Miriam Clegg.
They have something else in common, too; they’re grounded, sensible, and appear to view their husbands’ political careers as a colossal pain in the neck. I would suggest a general swap, were it not that I once made the mistake of doing a joint interview with my wife after the royal wedding, which prompted 100 texts, asking: “Who is the attractive, articulate woman sitting next to the boring stiff in a suit?”
I’m doing the rounds of film festivals at the moment with Shadow Dancer, the film I adapted from my first novel. We’ve had a great reception everywhere, fantastic reviews (we’ll happily take the Tinker Tailor comparisons), and have just heard that Andrea Riseborough and Brid Brennan have shared the Best Performance award at Edinburgh.
Most enjoyable of all have been the Q&A sessions. It’s true that I’m accompanied by the director James Marsh, Oscar-winner for Man on Wire, and one of the smartest men around, but the level of debate is generally very high.
I can only conclude there’s a hunger out there for intelligent fare, and I’m not surprised; Hollywood has all but given up trying to make such films. So if you like movies with a bit of thought behind them, I hope Shadow Dancer will be for you.
I went straight from Edinburgh to the Chalke Valley History Festival, which is the best literary event I’ve ever attended. I managed to catch lectures on Agincourt and the Civil War, but the cast list was stellar throughout (Hastings, Morpurgo, Paxman et al), and I’d happily have attended every event.
It’s the perfect intellectual breath of fresh air in a beautiful corner of England. Do put it in your diary for next year.
Tom Bradby is political editor for ITV News. His film Shadow Dancer is released on 24 August