The Conservative and Labour parties are sharpening up their offerings to voters, with the general election now lurking in plain sight next year.
Yesterday, Sir Keir Starmer set out his plans to slash red tape in the National Health Service in a comment article in The Sunday Telegraph. “The idea the service is still ‘the envy of the world’ is plainly wrong,” he said.
In an LBC phone-in this morning, the Labour leader added that the NHS is not just “on its knees” but now “on its face”. Few would disagree with him on the diagnosis. It is the remedy where there is a dispute.
We report today claims that it could cost taxpayers £7 billion just to bring family doctors’ direct salaries onto the state’s books.
The Government has been busy too. Last night, ministers proposed measures to make it easier for the police to stop protesters from blocking roads and causing huge traffic snarl-ups by walking slowly down highways.
Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, said a balance had to be struck between the right to protest and the rights of “the hard-working majority to go about their day-to-day business”.
That comes ahead of the publication of new anti-strike laws, which are due to be set out this afternoon in the House of Commons by Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, to make it much harder for public sector unions to bring the country to a standstill.
Labour is already hitting back at both measures. And plenty will be watching with an eagle eye to ensure that police do not enforce the anti-protest measures over-zealously.
Taking a step back, it is clear that both the Tories and Labour are finally narrowing their gaze on the people who matter: voters.
The strategy is clear: Labour wants to show that it will take steps to improve people’s experience of the NHS, and not treat it as a “sacred cow” which cannot be touched.
And the Tories are siding themselves enthusiastically with what Sunak sees as the “hard-working majority” who just want to get to work or see their families.
The proximity of next year’s election means that clear dividing lines are now opening up between the two parties.
Interestingly this does not – yet – extend to taxation, where there is not much to separate the Tories and Labour. That will not last.
We reported last week that Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, might now have an extra £10 billion to spend when he presents his Budget to MPs on March 15.
I expect that calls for tax cuts (or the reversal of some of the increases planned for April and announced in November’s Autumn statement) to grow after the stronger-than-expected performance of the economy.
It’s a long road to the next general election – but the first steps are being made.
Chopper’s Westminster Whispers
|Handful of Tories to try to stop bonfire of EU red tape on Wednesday
Just five Conservative MPs are expected to rebel on Wednesday when the Retained EU Law Bill is read for the third time in the House of Commons.
Brexiteer Tory MP David Davis, while not planning to rebel, is proposing an amendment to give Parliament a greater say over the process.
The Bill orders the destruction of up to 4,000 EU laws unless ministers say they need to keep them. It is essentially the same that was championed by Jacob Rees-Mogg when he was business secretary.
One Government source tells me it is “a miracle” that PM Rishi Sunak kept his word and made no substantial changes to the draft Bill, including keeping the “sunset” of Dec 31 in the Bill, as I revealed in Friday’s newsletter.
The next step will be the House of Lords where peers are expected to try to amend it. Let battle commence!
|Lee Anderson to become half the man he was
Hats off (literally in Steve Bray’s case) to red wall Tory MP Lee Anderson, by far one of the most interesting and fun Conservative MPs of the 2019 intake. He is going on a diet.
“After a Twitter month of being labelled as fat, porky, pot-bellied, obese, lard ass and other names not allowed on a family page like this I have decided to diet. No more carbs, chocolate, beer and Weetabix. Target weight 15st 8. Anyone joining me? Weigh in next Monday.”
I am tempted to join him.
|Boris’ portrait commissioned ‘before partygate’
More on the row about Boris Johnson’s portrait, which the former prime minister unveiled last week at the Carlton Club.
The club’s historian – and a member for 30 years – told The Telegraph on Friday that the club has made a “great mistake” in honouring Johnson with a portrait before MPs have decided if he lied to Parliament.
The Carlton Club was tight-lipped when I approached them for a response but a member got in touch to say the portrait – a tradition afforded to all Tory leaders – was “commissioned before all of the nonsense” about partygate. This might explain it. Why couldn’t the Club tell me though?