U-turns and briefings hint at trouble ahead
Andrew Piece in his Mail column today has highlighted an important, yet somewhat overlooked, aspect of last week’s Budget – the cuts to the winter fuel allowance. I thought it worth filling in a bit of the background to what has turned out to be Cameron’s biggest personal u-turn so far.
Of course Osborne was going to skate over this one and bury it amid talk of fuel duty and personal tax allowances. His best friend, one David Cameron, had promised not to do exactly this just under a year ago when he was trying to get pensioners to vote for him. He even accused Labour of ‘lying’ when they said it was a possibility:
“Let me take this opportunity to say very clearly to any pensioner who is watching this or reading any of these reports: I know you are getting letters from the Labour Party that says the Conservative Party would cut the Winter Fuel Allowance, would cut the free bus travel, would cut free television licenses.
“Those statements by Labour are quite simply lies. I don’t use the word “lie” very often but I use it today because they are lies. A Conservative government would keep the winter fuel allowance, would keep the free television licence, would keep the extra money for pensioners.”
You can even watch him making this point to get the sense of quite how strongly he believed in this:
It isn’t that often you see a prime minister making a strong, personal pledge on something he is then forced to climb down on less than a year later. No doubt, when challenged, he will say it merely indicates the gravity of the economic situation he inherited from Labour. But it’s good ammunition for Ed Miliband for the first post-Budget PMQs this Wednesday.
Further muddying the waters, the Sunday Mirror reported yesterday that Nick Clegg had falsely claimed that the allowance was in fact going to increase.
It would seem that the ‘coalition in crisis’ narrative, prompted by reports of cabinet ministers briefing against each other, is gathering momentum.
UPDATE 12.50 - I've just heard that Michael Gove is making a statement in the Commons at 16.30 on 'financial support for 16-19 year old students'. Could this be another U-turn, this time on the educational maintenance allowance?