The electorate oppose it, the manifesto omitted it and the Cabinet is divided. Of course I’m talking about the recent tax credit cuts that have been announced by soon to be renamed Chancellor of the Exchequer Darth Osborne. Because this was delayed by the House of Lords, the implications of this latest measure of financial impunity have been, from a left-wing perspective, hilarious to behold. However, if this policy is eventually passed, it would be catastrophic.
The tax credit cuts are terrible for working people and various figures have been thrown out regarding the specific financial impact of them but Resolution Foundation have calculated that a low-earning single parent is on average going to lose £1,000 and a low-earning couple with two children will be around £850 worse off. However the main crux of this article is about the political aspects of Osborne’s decision to cut tax credits because I’m not an economist.
Firstly the cuts themselves are the most politically stupid decision that Osborne has done which is strange because Osborne, despite his horrible policy suggestions, is very good at playing the game of politics and manipulating the electorate. The whole of the Tory election campaign was saying that the Conservative Party isn’t the ‘nasty’ party and is actually the party of working people. This was messaged excellently and, massively helped by the predominantly right-wing media, resulted in the Tories being elected as a majority government.
Therefore it makes no sense whatsoever, especially being so close after the election, to cut tax credits for people who are already in work. If the government was cutting tax credits from unemployed people, you could spin the debate so it sounds like you’re supporting working people but there is no way to spin this decision. Also we have cameras. When Cameron went on the Question Time Election Special in April and said “I’m not going to cut tax credits” and now, after he won the election, says his policy is “the right approach”, forgive me if when I say that Cameron is a fucking liar. During the election campaign the Tories were deliberately vague with Welfare cuts so that Labour couldn’t scrutinise what the Tories were saying but tax credits was one of the few Welfare policies Cameron specifically said he wouldn’t cut. We can therefore only conclude that either Osborne hadn’t told Cameron what he was going to do, or that he is a fucking liar. I don’t think for one second that Cameron was ignorant of what Osborne was doing so, say it with me: David, Cameron, is, a, fucking, liar.
But, other than the obvious fact of the Prime Minister being a fucking liar, there is another aspect to this discussion now that the Lords have voted to delay the measure. Without being dramatic, it’s a constitutional crisis people! Since the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014, constitutional issues have been thrown to the forefront of political debate both in Westminster and in the eyes of the public. Earlier this month the House of Commons approved proposals for so-called ‘English Votes for English Laws’ however this has also been met with contempt by all sides of the House including Labour, the SNP, the DUP and some backbench Tories. Similarly in the wake of the General Election result in May 2015, which saw the election of a majority Tory government with only 27% of the electorate and the gross under-representation of UKIP and the Green Party, there were calls for votes for 16-year-olds and electoral reform.
This latest development has raised the third large constitutional question in two years; considering that Tory MPs laughed Ed Miliband out the room when suggested having a Constitutional Convention after the election, note the deafening silence from Tory MPs regarding the issue now. Before the Lords’ vote on the issue, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow had made his views perfectly clear and said that the constitutional precedent was that the Lords shouldn’t vote to oppose the government because it was a financial matter. Some members of the House of Lords are claiming that, although the issue is a financial matter, the government cannot lecture the Lords on democracy because the tax credit cuts go against the Conservative Party manifesto and the express promise of the Prime Minister. Others are pointing out that the Lords hasn’t vetoed the bill, they’ve delayed it so haven’t contravened any constitutional precedent.
However Cameron’s response was precious. When in coalition with the Lib Dems, Cameron rejected House of Lords reform and now yells about the primacy of the House of Commons and how unelected Lords shouldn’t be preventing the elected government from ruling as it sees fit. I actually agree with Cameron, but the reason I am comfortable saying that is because I want to abolish the House of Lords; you can’t have it both ways by continuing the existence of the Lords with Peers appointed by the Prime Minister and then complain it lacks democratic legitimacy.
The wonderful piece of irony that everybody seems to be missing is that it was floated by senior Tory MPs and some ministers that the solution would be to flood the Lords with sympathetic Peers in order to guarantee the passage of the government’s legislation. You heard right, whilst complaining about the Lords’ lack of democratic accountability Cameron is contemplating appointing another few hundred unelected Lords to push through his policies that 73% of the electorate didn’t vote for. This is also happening at a time when Cameron is wanting to conduct a boundary review to reduce the number of MPs to 600 whilst continuing to increase the number of Peers; it’s not an omnishambles, it’s clusterfuck.
I believe, therefore, that these tax credit cuts, if implemented, could be Cameron’s poll tax moment and if not they’ll bite Osborne in the arse in any future leadership bid. But unlike the poll tax, which had the by-product of writing off significant numbers of Tory MPs in Scotland for the foreseeable future, the cuts to working tax credits may have the unforeseen consequence of undermining the entire British political system. It would be politically expedient to drop these cuts entirely, as the Tories would then still be able to say that they were the party of working people (sort of), and the recipients of these Welfare payments wouldn’t be worse off. Dropping the policy would also prevent Labour from making political capital out of continued media coverage whilst maintaining party unity within Parliament.