11 Jan 2014 at 12:30
This has been a very strange week for politics. George Osborne’s careful kettling of Labour and the Lib Dems over the £25 billion black hole in public spending was either an act of strategic genius or a catastrophic political miscalculation which will wrap the Tories in the mantle of ‘the nasty party’ once again.
The politics of it all is intriguing. The Lib Dems are signed up to the fact that £25 billion is going to have to be cut but can’t quite work out where. And Labour is noisily being dragged to the bottom of the pond by the Ballsian millstone clinging to their necks. They really have lost the plot on the economy and public spending and are perceived to be party of the scroungers. Ed Balls is the explosive jacket that Miliband has foolishly chosen to don. Try and remove it and it booby traps. Keep it on and it will detonate Labour into a nuclear winter at the election.
What confuses me is that £12 billion that is to be lopped from benefits. IDS appears to slavishly following the departmental line but is being briefed against by Francis Maude over the fiasco of the roll out of the Universal Credit scheme and the predictable, ruinously expensive and wholly unnecessary IT cock up.
I can see where Osborne is coming from. There is not much else to squeeze. The NHS and Overseas Aid budget are protected, Defence is creaking and Justice is going to become very, very messy with serious toxic fall out. I suspect that is why Cameron appointed Lord Faulks and Simon Hughes to the MOJ. Both men are opponents of the disastrous Grayling legal reforms and that he will be gang banged into some form of a climb down, dressed up as a listening excercise. The next set of barmy and downright dangerous proposals were due to be announced on the seventh of January. So far a deathly silence.
So DWP is a soft target. Provided pensioners are protected, which the Treasury hates, there is a thought that as the Tories are on the right side of the benefits argument we can get away with more cuts. But £12bn is one hell of a thwack unless it is carefully managed. What concerns me is the plan to ‘look at’ removing benefits for the under twenty fives. If it means slapping the vulnerable young who have nowhere to live, this is a turkey which will have to throttled fairly quickly. The Lib Dems were right to oppose it in principle. But it is early days. But the sting in a rather sensible tail is going to have to be removed.
What is even more extraordinary is Tristram Hunt’s plans to licence teachers. He has a point. The worst really do need to be weeded out or retrained. But Gove is doing all of that. Teachers are more under surveillance than ever before. Another raft of bureaucracy will not be cheap and frustrate an already frustrated profession. The unions will be furious.
So why is Tristram on a collision course to antagonise his close allies? I have three theories all of which may well be wrong. Firstly, that he genuinely believes that this is in the best interests of children. Mmm.
Secondly he wants force Gove to say something really, really silly. As much as I like Michael and admire the job he is doing he does sometimes need to lie down in a darkened room with a wet flannel over his forehead before making pronouncements. I understand the thrust of what he meant over the teaching of the First World War, but his intervention just seemed a little quirky. Three, this is the Hunt gauntlet being thrown into the ring for a future leadership bid and showing that, unlike Miliband, he is prepared to stand up to the unions.
It will be interesting to see who briefs against him in the Sundays.