Coalition has 'full tank of gas' says PM – but where's the growth?
Elephant in the room at the coalition’s mid-term review is Chancellor’s failure to promote growth
SHADOW Chancellor Ed Balls is predicting there will be one big tick missing from a checklist of 100 promises by the coalition government that David Cameron and his deputy, Nick Clegg, plan to unveil today - the box marked economic growth.
Sceptical hacks are already scoffing that today’s mid-term review is no more than a stunt. Labour-supporting Kevin Maguire of the Daily Mirror tweeted: "Hope the excitement of Dave & Nick renewing their vows doesn't keep me awake."
In a round if interviews yesterday, Cameron did the dance of the seven veils over a European referendum and dropped hints about a raft of new plans for the second-half of this parliament. They are expected to include childcare vouchers, worth up to £2,000 per child, to help married couples in work; a cap on the cost of care for the elderly (probably £75,000 plus bed and board which is still much higher than many can afford); and proposals to speed up house-building, a constant promise of this coalition, never kept.
As for the checklist, the chairman of the Tory Party, Grant Shapps, said yesterday he had a list of 100 promises which had all been honoured, including such whizz-bang ideas as doubling the size of the Territorial Army (because they are cutting the number of regular soldiers) and cutting 220 quangos.
Plenty of boxes will remain unticked, however, such as the Tory promise to provide tax incentives for couples (straight ones) who get married, and a vote on the repeal of the fox hunting ban.
But the elephant in the room will be the Chancellor’s failure to deliver on his promises for three per cent growth. Labour leader Ed Miliband got his description of the 2012 Budget declared the word of the year by the Oxford Dictionary. The word was "Omnishambles".
The Chancellor as late as December 5 unveiled predictions that growth would be back to two per cent in 2014 and 2.3 per cent in 2015 - general election year. Nobody seriously believes the forecasts and Ed Balls said gleefully yesterday that the economy was "still flatlining".
Osborne is lucky that the voters appear to hate Balls more than him. But unless the Chancellor can revive the economy, ticking 100 phoney boxes will not lift Cameron’s government off its death-bed.
A poll in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday showed that Labour is gliding towards a walk-over at the next election, largely helped by the haemorrhaging of Tory support to UKIP which was put on 16 per cent - not enough for UKIP leader Nigel Farage to win a single seat, but enough to put 51 Tory seats at risk and kill Cameron’s hopes of victory.
Cameron made it clear in an interview for the Sunday Telegraph with his mate Matthew D’Ancona that he would go on and on, until 2020 if he wins. But all that looks academic today. Camo would be more realistic planning for his departure in 2015.
So if today’s stunt is likely to be viewed simply as a cynical exercise in political spin, why is Cameron bothering with it? Could it be to take Tory minds off the fact that many true blue Tory voters earning over £50,000 a year will lose their child benefit today? Or is it the fact that tomorrow MPs are voting on a real terms cut in benefits that will hit strivers in low-paid jobs?
Many of them voted Tory at the last election, convinced their jobs would be safer under the Tories because they were more competent than Labour on the economy. Cameron said yesterday on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that far from running out of ideas, the coalition had a "full tank of gas".
Gas or hot air?