It is impossible at the moment for two or more Conservatives to gather together without immediately and at some length discussing the recent election. I say ‘discuss’, but that part only follows when the group’s agreed list of Anglo-Saxon expletives and colourful adjectives is exhausted and calm descends on the company. Whilst there is often agreement about many of the more negative reasons, there is less about what we should do going ahead. This is more likely because the results in different parts of the country were seldom uniform.
As John Curtice pointed out recently, the Conservatives in some areas made big strides in gaining what he referred to as blue collar workers, whilst he showed, in other areas, we lost support from more middle class voters who previously voted Conservative. London was, as I wrote during the election, very different from the rest of the UK and requires particularly careful analysis.
However, all this important work which now needs to go on in understanding the result and then rebuilding around that result, so that we have a better chance of winning the next general election, will need a little time. Importantly, we will only get that if we realise what a precarious position we are in and just how important it is that we do not do anything to precipitate an election.
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The Work and Pensions Secretary has personally contacted the Defence and Home Secretaries to set out the details of the proposed cuts after they raised concerns about the impact on national security of further spending reductions.
Mr Duncan Smith is understood to have offered to restrict housing benefit for the under-25s, and to limit state payments to families with more than two children.
Both proposed cuts were publicly floated by the Prime Minister last year, but were thought to be off the agenda during this Parliament.
The discussions over further welfare cuts took place before last Wednesday’s suspected terror attack in Woolwich, which is expected to lead to renewed pressure on the Treasury to protect security spending.
The Liberal Democrats have pledged to block any further working-age benefit cuts, but will now come under intense pressure from some Conservatives to reverse their opposition ahead of next month’s Spending Review.
The Work and Pensions Secretary will release figures showing how many people are long-term claimants of unemployment benefit and other welfare payments.
The statistics are likely to add to a Coalition row over the growing cost of social security payments, which economists say is hampering efforts to reduce the deficit.
It could also add to tensions within Labour over how to deal with the growing benefit budget.
In an annual report on his Social Justice Strategy, Mr Duncan Smith will publish statistics showing “the scale of entrenched social breakdown that has taken hold across Britain over the last decade”.
Even though there are 400,000 fewer people out of work than a year ago, Mr Duncan Smith will say, there are still too many people with a long-term dependency on benefits.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, said it would be possible to live on so little, after a benefits claimant told the BBC he gets by on £53 per week after housing costs.
The senior Tory was put on the spot as he defended the need for billions of pounds in cuts to the welfare budget because of the country’s “economic mess”.
Labour has branded yesterday the start of “Black April” as a number of cuts and freezes in benefits and tax credits took effect on April 1.
However, Mr Duncan Smith criticised those who portray the changes as “attacking” and “slashing” benefits, arguing the Coalition is “reforming” the system to make it “fair”.
At any given moment, there exists at least one delicate subject that all mainstream political parties would much rather not discuss. For many years the abuse of MPs’ expenses fell into this category. After this was exposed by a Telegraph investigation, everyone joined a tacit agreement to keep quiet about the criminality inside the Murdoch newspaper empire.
Now the subject which nobody wants to talk about is the National Health Service. It is just over a week since the publication of the Francis report into Stafford hospital, where some 1,200 patients died in appalling circumstances. Had any other institution been involved in a scandal on this scale, the consequences would have been momentous: sackings, arrests and prosecutions. Had it involved a private hospital, that hospital would have been closed down already, and those in charge publicly shamed and facing jail.
I’m sure it is entirely coincidental, but since this column’s pre-Christmas diatribe against the lie perpetrated by politicians of all parties – that present welfare provision can be sustained into the indefinite future – there has been a positive epidemic of truth-telling. Members of the Cabinet are now falling over one another to warn that present entitlements and universal benefits must be regarded as a thing of the past: that it is not only the workless dependency culture that needs to be dismantled, but also the system of automatic payments, which has expanded to encompass the entire population regardless of need.
The new pension could be worth as much as £155 a week when the scheme starts in 2017. It is expected to be announced early next week and will replace the current complex system under which pensions are linked to lifetime national insurance payments.
But millions of workers face paying more tax through increased national insurance contributions if they are currently part of final salary occupational pension schemes.