OLDHAM WARNING FOR LABOUR.
A Labour contact of mine in the Oldham West by election says on the doorstep traditional Labour voters are raising Corbyn’s leadership all the time. This could be significant as “Westminster bubble” issues don’t always resonate with voters.
The feedback from this northern seat is that Corbyn and his close advisers are all perceived to be from a London clique who haven’t a clue about the North. This impression will be compounded by Corbyn’s decision to cancel his planned Friday visit to the by election as he tries to sort out serious divisions over his party’s policy on bombing Syria.
All this means that we would be unwise to rule out UKIP doing very well next Thursday night in Oldham West and Royton.
OSBORNE FOR PRIME MINISTER?
George Osborne’s shameless U turn on tax credits and police cuts will be long forgotten if his gamble in believing in a continuing world of low inflation and interest rates pays off. In his six years as Chancellor, he has shown himself generally to have a pragmatic and politically sensitive approach. Made a mistake over pasties or tax credits? Make a change and move on. His upbeat approach at all three budget statements this year raises the morale of backbench Tories who think he’s a winner. They also like the ideology which runs underneath the pragmatism. Osborne is determined to create a smaller state. By 2020 it will have shrunk from 50% to 35% of gross Domestic Product.
This is most clearly seen in housing policy. The private sector is to be incentivised to build 400,000 homes with a strong emphasis on making them available to buy not rent. Along with the right to buy for Housing Association tenants, the thrust of government policy is clearly away from social housing to home ownership. First time buyers with incomes of up to £80,000 in the North will be able to benefit from the subsidies offered. The policy will not help the poor who are most in need of housing.
On education George Osborne explicitly said the days of local councils running schools would be a thing of the past. 500 new free schools are to be built.
So ideology to please the Tory backbenches, pragmatism to please the voters, could this be a combination that allows George Osborne to see of Theresa May or Boris Johnson in the leadership election? At the moment he has to be favourite but what if things go wrong.
The Treasury are spinning that this isn’t the end of austerity. Well a strategic decision has been taken to take advantage of the more optimistic outlook offered by the Office for Budget Responsibility to ease the cuts in the early years of the parliament and breach the welfare cap. There is a heavy reliance on continued low inflation rates and growth of around 2.5%. If “events” happen like a further downturn in the Chinese economy, Osborne’s gamble could unravel just when he’s seeking to become Prime Minister. In that respect it is strange that he has decided to defer more painful cuts till nearer the election rather than getting them over now.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE NORTH.
Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester City Council had challenged the Chancellor to put the flesh on the bones of the Northern Powerhouse particularly in relation to transport. Well there is £200m for transport including £150m for an “oyster” card system. This is brilliant news. Anyone who uses London Transport knows that card makes the use of public transport so easy. The M6 between junctions 16-19 is to upgraded. The motorway which enters the north through the important gateway of Cheshire and Warrington is often overlooked when connectivity is discussed. There are major investments in science and nuclear power. New Enterprise Zones are being created in Leeds, York, Greater Manchester Life Science Park, Cheshire Science Corridor and Hillhouse Chemical on the Fylde.
Labour can claim to have forced the government to retreat over tax credits and police cuts but they still shoot themselves in the foot.
Liam Byrne’s 2010 message left on a Treasury desk saying there was no money left, Ed Miliband’s headstone and Shadow Chancellor John MacDonald’s brandishing of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book are a woeful series of unnecessary public relations gaffs.
The tragedy is that the issue that MacDonald was trying to raise, the worrying amount of our infrastructure owned by the Chinese is a valid one.