David Cameron will address the Tory Party Conference as Prime Minister for the first time this afternoon. But this won’t be a triumphant victory speech following the general election.
Instead Cameron has been forced onto the defensive as the spending review announcement gets closer and details of the cuts to be made become clearer.
Yesterday’s announcement of cuts in child benefit to 1.2 million people has caused consternation among Tory ranks. Families with one high earner will lose the benefit whereas those with two wages coming in could continue to receive it, despite having a higher total income.
In an unusual move, the Chancellor, George Osborne, yesterday wrote to all Tory MPs defending his announcement. Backbenchers are not happy it seems, and they will already be under pressure from their constituents.
The letters page of the Daily Mail, usually a place where the Tories get a good press, was filled with messages opposing the cut this morning. The Tories’ claim to be the party of the family was ridiculed and the unfairness of the more was highlighted.
And in the Telegraph, a tax expert from accountants Grant Thornton argued that changes to personal allowances would mean that up to 3 million families would lose the benefit.
David Cameron was repeatedly asked about the fairness of the cut on television last night. He could not defend the unfair manner of its implementation and also apologised for the fact that it had not featured in his party’s election manifesto.
But in today’s speech the Prime Minister is expected to announce a tax break for married couples. This was in the manifesto, but it was indicated that only basic rate taxpayers would benefit. Now it seems that those on higher rates – the losers in the child benefit cut – will also qualify.
Taking with one hand and giving back with the other? Trying to make amends? The Times calls this announcement “the smell of retreat”.
And the Lib Dems have previously opposed a married couples’ allowance, arguing that it discriminates against those who cohabit. Earlier this year Nick Clegg roundly criticised the idea.
“David Cameron is plain wrong, totally wrong, to say that we, the country, should spend billions of pounds providing a tax bribe for people simply to hold up a marriage certificate. It is immensely unfair,” said the Lib Dem leader.
But will Clegg and co now go along with Cameron’s policy? It seems like they will in yet another reversal of policy,
Meanwhile it was reported this morning that plans for the Big Society are not going well.
A series of meetings had been planned to launch Cameron’s new idea – but these have now been cancelled after the first meeting in Stockport didn’t go as organisers had hoped.
The idea had been to build support among the voluntary sector. But it seems that people were instead asking difficult questions, such as, “how can the big society possibly be developed in a climate of severe budget cuts?”
Organisers of the event decided to cancel others planned for Derby and Sunderland, reportedly because they felt that the open nature of the meetings led to participants veering off the planned agenda and discussing the issues that really concerned them.
I thought this government was supposed to show respect? To listen? But apparently only when you tell them what they want to hear. I’m sure the Big Society will feature in the Prime Minister’s speech. But this embarrassment will surely not be mentioned.
The key theme of Cameron’s speech this afternoon will be that cuts are coming and it won’t be easy, something that everyone already knows.
He will once more make the case for cutting deeply and quickly, knowing that there are far deeper cuts to come. And he will argue that wealth creation and new jobs to be created in the private sector will be the solution to tacking poverty. Meanwhile he will pledge to protect the most vulnerable.
David Cameron is under pressure. The child benefit cut has been badly thought out and faces opposition both within his own party and his party’s support.
Cameron will look closely at the response to his speech in tomorrow’s newspapers. If even the right wing press are criticising the government then there will be in for a long and difficult winter ahead for his government.