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Tuesday, October 05, 2010 

Where are the other parties in all of this?

Amusing as it undoubtedly is to watch the Tories panicking in such a way on the very first occasion in government that they've done something to upset their base and media supporters, isn't it rather odd that we've heard almost nothing from the Liberal Democrats about what they think of the higher rate taxpayer child benefit cut? True, the Tories didn't make much comment during their conference and the Lib Dems may well just be returning the favour, yet as Paxman's failure to get a straight answer out of Theresa May on when she knew about the cut showed (YouTube undoubtedly coming soon), it's quite possible that many of them were also kept out of the loop. While David Cameron is now apologising for not having the cut in the Tory manifesto, although considering large chunks of it were immediately cast aside in the coalition agreement it was hardly ever a concrete guide, there most certainly wasn't anything in the Liberal Democrat manifesto about one either, even if they proposed "reforming" tax credits, also a potential minefield.

Similarly invisible has been Labour. There might well be good reasons for this: after all, when an opposition policy is imploding in such a magnificent fashion it can sometimes be best to simply let it happen without distracting from the spectacle. Also apparent is that to be credible Labour has to get its deficit reduction plan right very quickly indeed, and by making rash promises about keeping certain benefits or opposing certain cuts it makes that all the more difficult. Even so, capitalising on the Tory difficulties ought to be an open goal: not only do they remove child benefit from higher earners supposedly to save £1 billion a year, but a day later they then make clear that they'll give some of that back eventually by introducing a transferable tax allowance for married couples, including apparently those that they've already argued don't need such help from the state. One day they're saying that higher earners no longer qualify for help from the state for raising the next generation; the next they're saying that those who simply get married do deserve special treatment. It's not just perverse; it's close to being politically bankrupt.

What's more, what does this say about all of the other cuts which the government is so determined to introduce in the national interest, as the Tory conference slogan currently has it? Could they similarly be blown off course by a backlash should they touch the backs of the good burghers of middle England more than they realised they would? Unlikely, yet certainly not unthinkable. Either way, distracted by the shadow cabinet elections or not, Labour ought to be pointing all of these contradictions out, and so far seems to have spurned the opportunity to do so.

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