Tax credits, disability benefit and nine other U-turns from the first year of a Conservative government

In the first year of a Conservative government free of their coalition partners, there have been several major reversals

Jon Stone@joncstone
Saturday 07 May 2016 14:03

It is a year since the Conservatives won a surprise majority the 2015 general election. While many Tories may have looked forward to a bright future freed of the shackles of coalition, it has been anything but plain sailing for the party’s leadership.

Since the 2011 the Tories have been forced into climbdowns on a raft of key policies, with their slim majority meaning even minor backbench opposition makes controversial hard to push through.

Tax credit cuts

In his first Tory-only budget, George Osborne promised sharp cuts to tax credits as a significant chunk of his planned £12 billion welfare cuts. A huge backlash ensued and he cancelled the cuts at the Autumn Statement, though similar reductions will still be quietly enacted in Universal Credit in 2020.

George Osborne's u-turn on tax credits

Disability benefit cuts

The DWP planned to cut payments for specially adapted appliances for disabled people. After Iain Duncan Smith, the then Work and Pensions Secretary resigned, saying he could not support them, the cuts were cancelled.

Forcing schools to become academies

While journalists were busy covering the local and regional elections the Government quietly announced that it was cancelling its plan to force all schools to become academies. A Tory rebellion looked likely and Labour refused to back the plan.

Junior doctors' contracts

On polling day for the May 2016 local elections the Government also said it was “pausing” the implementation of the junior doctors’ contract. The dispute isn’t over but the policy represents a climbdown.

Sunday trading laws

Plans to scrap or significantly roll back Sunday trading laws were defeated in the House of Commons after a Conservative rebellion in March this year. Even a plan to pilot the changes didn’t get through.

Fox hunting

The Tory manifesto pledged to hold a free vote in the House of Commons, with David Cameron backing repeal of the Hunting Act – but this was kicked into very long grass after anti-hunting Tories made it known that they would vote down any push.

Stopping in-work benefits for EU migrants

David Cameron planned to ban all EU migrants from claiming in-work benefits for four years. However, the policy proved impractical to agree at EU level and migrants will now get their benefits tapered in gradually over four years.

Saudi Arabian prisons

The Ministry of Justice’s trading arm had planned to raise money by running parts of the Saudi Arabian prison system, where the autocratic petrostate routinely uses beheading and crucifixion as punishment for serious crimes. Justice Secretary Michael Gove managed to secure a U-turn in the policy and the MoJ has withdrawn from the contract.

Michael Gove cancelled the contract 

Withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights

In 2014, then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said the UK would withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights if it did not win the ability to veto Strasbourg court rulings. His successor, Michael Gove, has now said this will not happen.

Police cuts

The Government faced opposition from the police to planned cuts in the run-up to the 2015 Autumn Statement. Labour had planned to hammer the government on the issue but in what appeared to be a last-minute decision, George Osborne decided to protect police budgets and ruled out further reductions.

Trade union restrictions

Conservative former shadow home secretary branded some restrictions in the Government’s trade union bill as resembling those imposed by Spain’s General Franco. Those restrictions were withdrawn; other parts of the Trade Union Bill, including plans to restrict political funding, were also watered down in a partial climbdown.

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