We’ve had the cold snap of winter and soon spring will be here. In Westminster that means it’s Budget time. The economy is the dominant political story of this government – although the Health and Social Care Bill has given it a good run for its money. So welcome to our Budget issue as we look ahead to March’s set-piece Commons occasion. Inside you will find a fantastic photo-story by Andrew Parsons, which provides a rare look at George Osborne’s work inside No 11. He is the fulcrum on which the rest of the government rests. And inside on p48 you will see him writing speeches, hosting meetings with members of his Treasury team, and holding court at the daily afternoon political meeting next door in No 10. It’s the details I love the most; be it the fist-clench during a phone call or the past chancellors lining the wall of No 11 as Osborne passes by. Complementing our cover spread is an interview with Chloe Smith, economic secretary to the Treasury. I have heard plenty of grumbles from Conservatives MPs about her rapid promotion, so thought it was time to feature her view of what it’s like to be given an envied ministerial position by the PM in the most powerful department of all. Rob Wilson does a terrific job of getting Smith to reveal a surprising off-duty hobby and much more besides. We also explore David Cameron’s frame of mind on the economy with George Pascoe-Watson’s great column on p11. Find out how, even with memories of ‘Black Wednesday’ in 1992 as Norman Lamont’s special adviser, Cameron stays calm with a trusted but small group of confidants. If the arguments between the economic dictums of Keynes and Hayek resonate for you, turn to p68 for our essay on the recent book examining both. Away from our Budget coverage, Amber Elliott goes inside the different power bases of the Parliamentary Labour Party to explore its current moods and movements. There is much more to discover beyond the nowfamous lasagne parties. I hope you find plenty to get stuck into in this month’s issue.
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On the cover George Osborne photographed exclusively for Total Politics by Andrew Parsons on 8 February 2012 at No 11 Downing Street, London.
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FULL STEAM AHEAD It was good to read full-throated advocacy of high speed rail (HS2) from Theresa Villiers (TP, February). She is right to stress the importance of cross-party backing for this vital strategic scheme. While Labour oﬀers full support, we continue to call for ministers to provide certainty over the full route to the north by bringing forward a single hybrid bill, which could be done without delaying delivery of HS2 by one day. Will transport ministers also recognise the importance of consensus on aviation strategy, and take up Labour’s oﬀer of cross-party talks?
Villiers says that she “understands public concerns about rail fares”, yet nowhere in her interview does she suggest there will be any relief from the planned two years of fare increases at three points above the retail price index. At a time when passengers are reeling from hikes of up to 13 per cent, that is not acceptable. The pain that hard-squeezed passengers felt this January could be nothing compared to the two Januaries to come. John Woodcock MP Shadow transport minister
TRANSPARENT TAXES Government spending has increased massively in recent years and we set up the TaxPayers’ Alliance because we felt that councils, quangos, government departments and the EU weren’t being properly scrutinised on spending. During the economic downturn, people became more acutely aware of just how big their tax had become for all that government spending, and how much that hit family budgets. We continue to be vocal opponents of government profligacy and have won the fight for spending transparency.
However, we now need to make that same argument on tax. The system is far too complex and opaque. Pay cheques convince ordinary taxpayers that they pay 20 per cent tax, by keeping national insurance separate when it’s simply another income tax. Transparency is the key to driving taxes down by exposing stealth taxes and leaving more money in the pockets of taxpayers, where it belongs. Matthew Elliott Chairman, TaxPayers’ Alliance
CENTRALISING EDUCATION Neil O’Brien’s uninformed dismissal of critics of government education policy, like myself, suggests that the Tory part of the coalition has no awareness of how divisive and unpopular its reforms have become (TP, February).
For all the talk of autonomy, we are seeing an unprecedented centralisation of education. Academies and free schools are touted as the only route to improvement despite growing evidence to the contrary. Parental choice is trumpeted until parents want something diﬀerent from what the government wants. Any hint of criticism and out trots the cartoon stereotypes about ‘ideologues’ and ‘enemies of promise’ when, in fact, the opposition is coming from heads, teachers and parents around the country.
As for positive solutions, we need a strong, collaborative model with highly-qualified teachers, smaller classes, a broad and engaging curriculum, not to mention the crucial ability to bring all stakeholders along with you. Gove and company are failing miserably on almost every count. Melissa Benn Local Schools Network
THE PICK OF ONLINE COMMENTS FROM TOTALPOLITICS.COM u Gawain Towler’s article on the rise of UKIP (TP, February) provoked a lively debate online this month. Mr McBeth said: “UKIP should strain every fibre and push every eﬀort to split the Labour vote, otherwise it will not achieve enough pressure on these MPs in the wake of the Lib Dem collapse.” He went on to suggest that the party’s executive commi ee should be made “more representative of its members”. Mr Hudson added: “At last a party that wants to restore true democracy to the people rather than micro-control our existence.”
u Charlo e Henry’s blog, Could HuhnebecomeaLibDemking acrossthewater? drew comment from Harry M, who disagreed with Charlo e’s assertion that the pool of Lib Dem talent to replace Huhne was small. “On talent in the party, well, there is Stephen Gilbert, Don Foster, Stephen Williams, Julian Huppert, Tom Brake, Martin Horwood, Tessa Munt & Duncan Hames to name a few,” he said.
u Amber Ellio ’s piece Hain:‘the politicalpartymodelisbust, in which the former Welsh secretary stated that “Labour is the only growing party at the present time”, angered Siôn Jones. He wrote: “This from the shadow secretary of state for Wales? Plaid Cymru has added 25 per cent to its membership in a few weeks, and the SNP add hundreds to its membership every time a unionist from
London opens his mouth. It may not be important in London, but in Wales, where his constituency is, and whose people he is supposed to represent, it is highly significant. The constitutional question is the only one that is important at the moment. Hain shows that he is totally ignorant of the shape of things to come. How out of touch can a professional politician get?”
u Gavin Devine’s exhortation on the blog to “cut the wa e on lobbying and get serious” a racted guarded approval from Mark Adams, who wrote: “I thought I would have to disagree with Gavin... However as I read further into the article, it seems Gavin is just being diplomatic – by the end, he clearly thinks the government’s proposals are almost as flawed as I do! Good on him.”
u Chris Bruni-Lowe’s introduction to the People’s Pledge campaign (TP, November) has seen a surge of interest online as the campaign announced its first referendum. Tim Spencer wrote: “The problems we face are apathy and sheepism. A sheep will always follow the herd and vote for the same party regardless of the candidate or their policies. But it is a sensible idea to target the marginal constituencies first, where the though ul hold the balance of power. Colin Martyn, however, was more sceptical about the campaign, saying: “I see nowhere on this site what safeguards are in place to protect the privacy of the list of provided names and emails. For example, how can I be sure that the list will not be sold to a publisher, or some other commercial enterprise that would then bug me to buy stuﬀ?”
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