4 Mar 2013

No lurch to the right? More of a ‘body swerve’

No lurch to the right, David Cameron promised. “I think it’s a body swerve to the right,” Tory MP Stewart Jackson said.

“I think he realises he has to have a rapprochement with the right of the party – he cannot set himself against the party’s core supporters for too much longer because there won’t be the infrastructure to fight a general election.”

He was commenting after 48 hours of headlines promising a tougher Tory line on the European Convention on Human Rights (a pledge to withdraw from it to be in the next manifesto) and promises to prevent Bulgarians and Romanians draining the resources of the NHS, social housing and benefits.

I put it to Kenneth Clarke, minister without portfolio in the cabinet, that it sounded like a lurch to the right. He said he thought it was just journalists running around making things up. I asked: “If I told you this was being briefed by No 10 would it worry you at all?” Ken Clarke said: “If you told me that it would.”

Well, it is.

Though one government source said: “Note the silence from the DWP. We think this is grotesquely premature” and “kite-flying of the worst kind.”

Would the government really reintroduce the contributory principle for benefits, affecting UK nationals as well as EU migrants? Governments of both colours have spent the last three decades winding down the contributory principle, most recently with the new single state pension announced in January. Contributory benefits have been wound down to reduce complexity and reduce costs.

Does the government really have the room for manoeuvre to do much on access to the NHS and GPs, to social housing too? They’ve got their work cut out coming up with something in the “few weeks” timescale talked about by government sources today.

There must be a danger that Tory backbenchers feel underwhelmed when the proposals eventually surface. One modernising Tory minister said he was “depressed” by the last 48 hours and thought the Tories risked trying to imitate Ukip.

All senior Tories have read Lord Ashcroft’s polling research suggesting that voting Ukip is not a vote for a policy prospectus but “more a cast of mind,” the minister said.

He thought his party leadership appeared to have forgotten that.

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