The hopeless response to flooding, offensive memos from Oliver Letwin, the scrapping of the FCA banking review, extortionate rail fair rises, the extent of Osborne’s privatisation agenda revealed, capitulation to his backbenches on Europe - it hasn’t been going so well for David Cameron lately.
2016 is the year Labour will step up the fightback with key elections that will provide the building blocks for 2020.
But for the Tories in 2016, the problems in David Cameron’s in-tray are already piling up -
1. Flooding: Everyone has been shocked by the devastating flood scenes over Christmas. The situation has been exacerbated by the poor response from Tory ministers and years of cuts to vital protection budgets. We need to see a completely different approach from the Tories in 2016. As Labour has said, we need a cross-party and long-term plan for investment, which is advised by experts and can last beyond the life of one Parliament.
2. Climate change: One thing the recent flooding has highlighted is the complete failure of the Tory Government to recognise adequately the impact of climate change in the UK. David Cameron once pledged to have ‘the greenest government ever’ but since then has scrapped policies that would help deliver on that commitment. 2016 needs to be the year he starts to make good on his promise.
3. The Tories’ position on Europe: It’s an open secret the Tories are massively divided over the European Union and the promised referendum. David Cameron confirmed that divide by conceding a free vote on the issue– a move Michael Heseltine has warned will plunge the party into civil war. Instead of internal fighting Labour’s priority will be making the case that Britain is better off in Europe.
4. Leadership squabbles: David Cameron’s confirmation that he’ll stand down before the next General Election means senior Tories are already squabbling over who should get his job. This means that instead of focusing on the job in hand – for example getting people hit by the floods over Christmas back on their feet – Tory ministers are too busy worrying about themselves.
5. Bullying: Tory Central Office has completely failed to deal properly with accusations of bullying following the Mark Clarke revelations. Conservative Chair Lord Feldman has serious questions to answer in 2016, which he can’t hide from.
6. Universal Credit: The Tories’ cuts to Universal Credit take effect from April – effectively their original tax credit cuts simply delayed and introduced via a different route. The cuts this year will introduce a new postcode lottery, with some families up to £3,000 worse off from April than other claimants in exactly the same circumstances.
7. Accountability: As our Deputy Leader Tom Watson has recently highlighted David Cameron is governing from the shadows and doing all he can to avoid transparency and scrutiny of his decisions. At the heart of this is the Tories’ plan to weaken the Freedom of Information Act – a move we now learn is opposed by even the Cabinet Secretary. Before Christmas the Commission examining the Act pledged to announce its next steps as soon as possible after January 2016. How the Government takes forward its plans for the FOI Act will be a defining moment for the Tories.
8. Economy: David Cameron, George Osborne and other senior Tories are dangerously complacent about the British economy. The reality is our productivity is still much too weak, growth is reliant on rising household borrowing and we have the largest current account deficit since the Duke of Wellington was Prime Minister. 2016 needs to see recognition from the Tories about the challenges facing our economy.
9. NHS. Jeremy Hunt is pushing the NHS and its staff to breaking point. The Junior Doctors situation has been totally mishandled and we’re about to see the first all-out strikes in NHS history. And the extra money announced in the Autumn Statement has already been spent – swallowed up in covering hospital deficits and higher pension costs.
10. Bank bonuses: The news, slipped out over Christmas, that an inquiry into the culture of the UK’s banking sector has been scrapped, sends a worrying message about the Tories’ attitude to the City as we approach bank bonus season. In the next few weeks and months the banks will start to announce details of their bonus payments for this year. With George Osborne now apparently keen to go easy on the banks there’s a real risk the days of big bonuses are back, while ordinary people continue to pay more.