What can we learn about the present Conservative leadership from the two great fiascos of George Osborne’s chancellorship? The child benefit cut debacle – as yet unresolved, in spite of a half-baked attempt to ameliorate its effect – has been followed and almost eclipsed by the Granny Grab. Ed Balls asked last week with feigned astonishment what on earth George was thinking. I think I may be able to help him there. When Mr Osborne makes the apparently bizarre decision to victimise two categories of people who might plausibly be seen to represent the very quintessence of Conservative virtue – traditional families with children and pensioners who try to provide for their own old age – he is, in fact, keeping to a carefully devised plan.
This programme is based on (or plagiarised from) the one that revived Labour from near-death and provided it with more than a decade of power, and which, as a result, has now been invested with near-magical properties by a generation of Tories who seem to have only the most superficial understanding of how it worked.
In Julian Barnes’s novel Staring at the Sun, the elderly become so furious with their lot that they form a protest movement, complete with martyrdoms in St Paul’s and outside Buckingham Palace. Their demands include: the closure of all old people’s homes; the elimination of “the word geriatric and its cognates from official use”; “old people are in future to be loved more”; the “creation of an Old People’s Day, to be celebrated once a year”; and “positive discrimination in jobs and housing in favour of old people”.
Twenty-six years after Barnes’s novel was published, reality is catching up with satire. Yesterday it was reported that the National Pensioners’ Convention is backing an e-petition challenging George Osborne to scrap the so-called “granny tax” announced in Wednesday’s Budget. The phasing out of age-related allowances was always bound to be contentious, and pensioners are famously good at mobilising opposition to such measures, and adept at harnessing the newest technology to their cause. In his memoirs, Nigel Lawson reflects that the invention of the word processor, and the consequent increase in protest mail, made it much harder to drive through measures such as the taxation of pension lump sums in the mid-Eighties. In 2012, e-petitions, Twitter and other social media are the weapons of choice.
The Monday after the daylight-saving time change will see the risk of having a heart attack jump up by 10 per cent.
Scientists at the University of Alabama, in the United States, said the schedule disruption coupled with sleep deprivation results in the risk of suffering a heart attack peak.
“The Monday and Tuesday after moving the clocks ahead one hour in March is associated with a 10 per cent increase in the risk of having a heart attack,” says Associate Professor Martin Young, Ph.D., in the Division of Cardiovascular Disease.
“The opposite is true when falling back in October. This risk decreases by about 10 percent.”
The Sunday morning of the time change doesn’t require an abrupt schedule change for most, but heart-attack risk peaks on Monday when most people rise earlier to go to work.
The startling admission from the former prime minister is contained in a set of diaries by Lord Spicer, the Tory grandee, which is being serialised in tomorrow’s Sunday Telegraph.
The book gives a well-placed insider’s view of the Thatcher years, including the Falklands War, the Brighton Bomb and her departure in 1990 when she was hounded out of office by her own party.
Lord Spicer, a former minister and party official who left Parliament at the 2010 election, also provides a vivid portrayal of the bitter struggle over the Maastricht Treaty which split the Conservatives and brought John Major’s government to its knees in the 1990s, as well as the fall of Iain Duncan Smith as Tory leader and the rise of David Cameron.
Lady Thatcher’s admission came in April 1995, shortly before Sir John’s resignation as Conservative leader – which followed years of warfare with the Right wing of his party which sought to use his predecessor, according to The Spicer Diaries, as a “rallying point.”
The former prime minister, Lord Spicer writes, had become disillusioned after stepping down in November 1990, telling him in the Commons in February 1991: “I hate coming to this place now.”
The letter from Mrs May to Nick Clegg, which has been seen by The Sunday Telegraph, proposes a tough new minimum income of £25,700 a year for anyone seeking to bring a spouse, partner or dependant to the UK from outside the European Union from June – almost double the current threshold of £13,700.
The minimum income would rise dramatically – up to £62,600 – if children are also brought in.
Mrs May also wants a longer probationary period of five years before spouses and partners can apply to live permanently in Britain, and a higher level of English to be required.
The proposals could cut the number of immigrants allowed in by 15,000 a year – a significant step towards the Government’s aim of reducing “net” migration to 100,000 people each year.
However, they are expected to fought hard by Mr Clegg and other Liberal Democrat ministers, escalating still further the tensions between the two Coalition partners that have risen dramatically since last week’s controversial Budget.
The letter, from Shadow minister Michael Dugher, follows an admission by co-treasurer Peter Cruddas, filmed by undercover Sunday Times reporters, that access to David Cameron and other ‘Premier League’ Tory politicians for between £2000,000 and £250,000.
The Prime Minister, interviewed as he prepared to run a mile for Sport Relief this morning, criticised Cruddas for what he said were “completely unacceptable’ claims, said he was right to resign and promised a party inquiry.
Asked if there would be funding reforms, however, Mr Cameron replied that he had already addressed funding issues in his party before turning his back on the interviewer and racing off.
“We’ve reformed party funding,” he said. “I took over a party with £20 million of debt. It’s now virtually debt-free.