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Issues Piling up for the Coalition in the last Week

Last Updated: Friday, October 29th, 2010

The issues have been piling up for the Coalition in the last week. The housing benefit row, brought to the boil by Boris Johnson. Continuing confusion over child benefit. And, in the last 24 hours, an agreement at the EU summit that won’t please natural Tories.

The Conservative leadership calculates that 48 hours of unhappiness from Eurosceptic Conservative members and the right-wing press is 48 hours it is prepared to swallow. A fight with the EU on the budget, or more significantly with Merkel and Sarkozy on wider Treaty changes, would upset the Liberal Democrats and distract from the primary purpose of the Coalition; deficit reduction. The “engaged”, managerial path that the Coalition has so far pursued on Europe will continue.

Despite hyperbolic attacks from the Left on the Coalition’s housing benefit policy, Downing Street is relaxed. Ed Miliband, Coalition strategists are convinced, has chosen the wrong fight. He began his leadership by saying he wanted to champion the ‘squeezed middle’ but hard-pressed families will be unimpressed with his decision to defend housing benefit payments of over £21,000 per year. Downing Street also believes that the fight dramatises the fact that the government is taking tough decisions in the national interest. A new YouGov poll suggests that by a massive margin – 62% to 10% – voters think the Conservatives are by far the party likeliest to take tough decisions.

Despite David Cameron’s suggestion at Prime Minister’s Question Time that he would not be making concessions on the housing benefit issue, some extra measures to help London absorb the new cap on payments are likely. Boris Johnson did not help his claim for special help by adopting the wild language of the Left and comparing the policy to “Kosovo-style social cleansing”. Number 10 are furious with him. The overall aim of the Coalition on HB is to persevere. They know that if the concessions are too significant, this early in the economic cycle, the opponents of every reform will smell weakness and attempt to erode other commitments.

The child benefit row is more confused.  One Tory MP told this morning’s Radio 4 Today programme that requiring higher rate taxpayers to tell the Revenue if the mother of his children claimed child benefit made the policy move unenforceable. If growth picks up (and this week’s +0.8% figure was very encouraging) there may be enough extra revenues in the Treasury coffers to cancel the change before it is due to be introduced in 2013.

The Coalition is pleased that it is maintaining a slender lead over Labour in opinion polls. It had expected to be falling behind by now but is increasingly encouraged by ‘below-the-headline poll results’ which suggest Ed Miliband will have an uphill struggle to convince enough of the British people that he is prime ministerial.

Tim Montgomerie

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE LAST WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Will Cameron relax his immigration policy? “The most desirable group of immigrants into this country (highly skilled business people and academics from non-EU countries) represent the tide easiest to stem with a cap. Similarly, we could relatively easily slash the number of non-EU students coming here to study but I believe such a group should broadly be encouraged – they will keep our Higher Education sector afloat financially in these stringent times and many will return home as keen ambassadors for this country in the decades to come.” More from Mark Field MP’s piece via http://j.mp/arUybp

The political consequences of the Coalition’s reduction in prison numbers: “Herbert argues that the Government’s planning a reduction in prison numbers of only 3 per cent.  Like many percentage figures, it’s less stark than the number concerned – in this case, a reduction of some 3000 people over the next four years.  In Opposition, the Party looked to pick up and publicise the failures of Labour’s Early Release Scheme.  Ed Balls will now seek to return the favour, and hunt for horrible crimes involving re-offenders who – he’ll argue – would have been behind bars but for the Coalition.” More via http://j.mp/bKwg5j

Paul Goodman’s rare interview with the Government’s Chief Whip: http://j.mp/9TaHO9

Jonathan Isaby identifies the most and least rebellious Tory MPs: http://j.mp/9nJrgs

Nine Tory MPs join the Select Committees: http://j.mp/bYoi2c

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