With friends like Chris Grayling, does David Cameron need enemies? To watch Grayling defending the Government’s born-again enthusiasm for Lords reform was to watch its arguments unravelling in real time. Yes, Tory Liam Fox was onto something in pointing out that “only Britain and Iran have unelected clerics in our legislatures” But sadly he’s not Leader of the Commons.
The Government’s insistence that the peers’ vote against tax credit cuts has caused a constitutional “crisis” rests on its contention that, as the never knowingly understated Jacob Rees Mogg told MPs, “since 1407 the Commons was given primacy over financial matters”. Except that Grayling told MPs that “tax credits are officially categorised as a benefits matter and not a tax matter”, and that was why they were not in the Finance Bill. Er hang on Chris, what’s all the fuss about, if it wasn’t a “financial matter”? As the Tory Peter Bone immediately said, the Lords were therefore “entitled” to vote down what “clearly was not a tax measure... We are seeing a knee-jerk reaction to the House of Lords doing what it is supposed to do.”
It’s as well that Cameron wasn’t still around to hear this. Especially just after a successful PMQs for Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader deployed the simple but effective tactic – Paxman with Michael Howard-style – of asking David Cameron the same question six times to demonstrate the PM’s unwillingness to answer it.
True, Cameron had a good sound-bite – that opposition to tax credit cuts was an “alliance between the unelected and the unelectable”. But this didn’t stop him getting redder and redder as Corbyn’s patiently exposed Cameron’s refusal to tell tax credit recipients if they would now be worse off next April.
Corbyn’s other achievement is that despite serially giggling at his habit of mentioning real people, Tory MPs are now copying it.
Unfortunately they haven’t yet grasped that this is more persuasive when it describes their circumstances than their opinions. Thus – say – “Reg has written to say that having started with nothing except the government’s New Enterprise Allowance, he now runs the fastest growing export business in Cheshire” would have been a lot less lame than “John of Weaver Vale” who Graham Evans MP said had urged him, conveniently squeezing two Tory mantras into a single sentence, “to stick to our long-term economic plan for a higher-wage, lower-welfare and low-tax society”.
This was carried to extremes by Tory Mark Pawsey, deeply concerned that Ruby, “one of my youngest constituents” might – without the continued ministrations of George Osborne, presumably – spend “her entire working life paying off the debt built up by this generation?” Pawsey didn’t say whether Ruby had written to him about this prospect. But it seems unlikely. By his own admission, she is a month old.
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