Archive for the 'Spending Cuts' Category


No GDP boost yet for the Tories. LAB has double digit leads in all the latest polls

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Just a third now blame Labour for the cuts

Maybe it’s all too early but in the wake of last week’s news that Britain was out of recession and that the GDP was on the up again there were many who thought that the Tories would get a poll bost.

Maybe that will happen but from three surveys from three totally separate pollsters using very different methodologies the signs are that Labour is enjoying a substantial lead.

The latest phone survey from ComRes had an 11% lead; YouGov (online) this morning had 10% while TNS-BMRB (part face to face) had 11%.

YouGov had a more worrying finding for the coalition. When asked who was to blame for the cuts just 34% said the last LAB government which equals the lowest it has ever been. 29% blamed the coalition which equals the highest level.

At one stage the proportion saying the LAB government was to blame was nearly half and just 17% blamed the coalition.

    I’m a strong believer that the notion “It’s the economy stupid” is wrong. The real driver is whether a government is perceived to be competent.

Next week, on US election day, we will be exactly half way through this parliament – there is still a long time to go.

Mike Smithson

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David Herdson asks: Will HS2 ever get built?

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Wouldn’t the money be better spent elsewhere?

The debate that’s recently taken place over the awarding of the next West Coast mainline franchise to FirstGroup refocuses the spotlight on the proposed HS2 line, which if built would be a very serious competitor to it.  That the franchise runs until 2026 – the date proposed for the opening of the first stage of HS2 – is presumably not coincidental.

Will it be built though?  There’s a lot of opposition along the way, both from those concerned about their metaphorical back yards and those who don’t believe the figures stack up to make it worthwhile.  Both groups carry plenty of weight.  Once out of London, the line would travel through numerous Conservative constituencies and council areas, none of whom seem to have much good to say about it.  It’s an argument the government doesn’t need and doesn’t have to have.

It’s not just nimbies either.  £30bn for the whole route is a lot of money for a fifty-year old solution to a 1960s problem.  The Japanese built the first Shinkansen lines and the French their TGVs in the days before low-cost budget airlines, the internet and tablet computers.  And that’s assuming the cost comes in at the initial budget: a rare circumstance in major government projects.

Keynsians would of course argue that this spending is precisely what the country needs, and they’d have a bit of a point if the builders were waiting to go, but with judicial reviews and other delays, the country could well have had another boom and recession by the time the first earth is turned.  What then might be better options for stimulating the economy and improving the transport network without upsetting a load of the government’s own supporters?

    One of the main reasons for the opposition is that it would be a new line, often cutting through unspoiled countryside.  Upgrading the existing network is, by contrast, unlikely to generate the same degree of protest.

    To that end, electrification of one or more of the Trans-Pennine, Great Western, cross-country and Midland mainline routes would be worth considering. 

On the roads, upgrading the A1 to motorway standard between Leeds and Scotland is long overdue, while other long-standing improvements could surely be accelerated.

Then there’s the airports.  HS2 and an expansion of London’s airport capacity are not entirely competing for the same custom but there’s certainly an overlap.  However, a new major east-of-London airport would bring strategic advantages for the UK that no train line could.  Despite being new-build, it wouldn’t generate the same degree of political opposition, especially if located off the current coast (unlike expanding Heathrow).  For the government, there’s also the attractive prospect that much of the financing could come from private sources.

With so little spare money about, with so many alternatives and with so much opposition, it’s difficult to see HS2 getting anywhere fast.  The hybrid bill paving the way for the route will itself be no simple legislative matter.  I wouldn’t be betting on it being passed before the general election.

David Herdson


Will Dave regret his debate fuel promise?

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Is this the problem with policy-making on the hoof?

Cast your minds back to Tuesday April 22nd when Adam Boulton of Sky News was moderating the second leaders’ debate in Bristol. A week earlier Nick Clegg had suddenly burst onto the scene with his first debate appearance and the polls had changed dramatically.

The general view was that Cameron had performed below par and the pressure was on him to do much better. In the second debate he was clearly determined to perform well and the issue of Tory plans on a range of pensioner benefits came up.

Cameron’s response in words that he might come to regret was: “We will keep the free television licence, we will keep the pension credit, we’ll keep the winter fuel allowance, we’ll keep the free bus pass.”

This morning the Telegraph is reporting that ministers are plan to raise the qualifying age from 60 to 66 and to reduce the amount that’s payable each year.

Currently this is a universal benefit paid to all households where there’s somebody of 60 or above – it costs £2.7 billion a year. Even those who are still earning get it. There is no means test.

At the time it was felt that Cameron might have gone too far in making the commitment – but this was in the heat of a critical TV debate.

No doubt ministers will argue that the benefit itself is not being abolished – but this look like one of those issues that could be raised time and time again.

Mike Smithson


Will nursery milk be “saved” by the LDs at the last minute?

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Sky News

Get ready for the politics of the spending review

The main story on SkyNews this morning evokes memories of what became a defining measure by the then education secretary, Margaret Thatcher, in 1971 – a long time ago.

Even those who are too young to have been about at the time must be aware of the chant from the period – “Thatcher Thatcher – Milk Snatcher” – something that came to symbolise the 70s and the 80s. Her move then stopped school children of seven and above getting free milk at school.

So what are we to make of the news that what remains of that scheme, the free milk for under 5s in nurseries and day-care, might be axed? The cost, about £50m for England, doesn’t sound a lot but to achieve the scale of economies that the coalition is pursuing then each line item of expenditure has to be assessed.

But call me a cynic if you like – but isn’t this one of those measures that is being floated only to be withdrawn at the last minute. It could then be hailed as a victory for Nick Clegg and his team.

At the same time it will deflect attention from the full range of economies that are due to be announced in October.

No doubt Labour will aid this strategy by making a big fuss of the child milk scheme that was introduced in 1940 to help protect pregnant women and the young against wartime shortages.

Mike Smithson