You do know, don’t you, that the Chancer of the Exchequer, George Osborne, will come up with something to mitigate his attack on the working poor? He will now know that slashing tax credits could be his getting-rid-of-the-10p tax rate which so damaged Gordon Brown. Like Brown’s blunder, Osborne’s wheeze seemed such a good idea at the time with the Sun cheering Osborne to the rafters. Until, that is, one of the paper’s editorial staff realised that their readership were among those to be hammered worst of all. Strange how that concentrates the mind, eh?
The House of Lords, we are told, is set to torpedo Osborne’s plans to attack the poorest workers in the land, amid all manner of threats from senior Tories who would see any action by the Lords as a threat to democracy, after which there could be “consequences”, without saying what these consequences might be. Corporal punishment, perhaps? And would that be a good look for the Tories to take strong action against the unelected Lords who were trying to stop poor people getting poorer?
In answer to the democratic angle, yes, it would be undemocratic for an unelected body to overrule the legislation of an elected body, even though that unelected body is stuffed with peers appointed by the very party that is attacking them. Bit of a tricky one there, then, facing both ways. But here’s another thing: the Tories didn’t actually tell the electorate they would cut tax credits once elected. Let us return to April 2015 when David Cameron appeared on BBC’s Question Time. These are the actual words used:
Audience member: “Will you put to bed rumours that you plan to cut child tax credit and restrict child benefit to two children?”
David Cameron: “No, I don’t want to do that — this report that was out today is something I rejected at the time as Prime Minister and I reject it again today.”
David Dimbleby: “Clearly there are some people who are worried that you have a plan to cut child credit and tax credits. Are you saying absolutely as a guarantee, it will never happen?”
David Cameron: “First of all, child tax credit, we increased by £450..”
David Dimbleby: “And it’s not going to fall?”
David Cameron: “It’s not going to fall. Child benefit, to me, is one of the most important benefits there is. It goes directly to the family, normally to the mother, £20 for the first child, £14 for the second. It is the key part of families’ budgets in this country. That’s not what we need to change.”
If the idea of the House of Lords blocking the cut to tax credits is so wrong, what is so good about what Cameron is up to? Let us be brutally honest here: the prime minister has lied through his teeth. The Tories said before the election they would make huge cuts to welfare without saying where these cuts would fall. When Cameron was asked whether the cuts would be from tax credits, he said very clearly that they would not be. At PMQs last week, Cameron proclaimed himself “delighted” that the decision to cut tax credits had cleared the House of Commons. I happen to believe that there is an argument to be had about the future of tax credits because, in some ways, they are flawed. They are also extremely complex on occasions, a situation that has never been addressed, never mind resolved, but certainly not at the expense of those who are working for a living on poverty wages. It is worth adding that Osborne’s cuts will increase the number in poverty by 200,000. I do not think that is right. Anyway, as Nick Clegg knows only too well, the British public does not like a liar and they don’t forget liars either. Cameron would do well to remember that as he seeks to define his leadership and his legacy, the latter of which is looking extremely dodgy at the moment.
Osborne might not be a very nice person, but he is not stupid. No one in British politics spends more time plotting and positioning for short term gain and he will not let this potential crisis overwhelm him. I hope people remember, in around 2018 when he succeeds Cameron, that once in 2015 he targeted the working poor and only backtracked when he realised he couldn’t get away with it. It’s his 10p tax rate, his tuition fees, his poll tax.