The Tories Could Still Lose The Election. Here's How.

24 April 2017, 11:15 | Updated: 25 April 2017, 14:04

Theresa May Listening

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Tory wobbles over tax this weekend shows that if this election is losable, Philip Hammond is the man to do it. Whatever possessed him to reopen the issue of raising tax, ruled out by Dave in the 2015 Tory manifesto?

I think I know: his officials. The people who Hammond listened to when trying to evade another manifesto pledge over National Insurance Contributions by the self-employed, which ended in humiliation for him, and could have cost him his job.

But Hammond is obviously a slow learner. His officials, rightly of course, don’t think a Chancellor’s hands should be tied. They think a Chancellor should have a doctor’s mandate to do whatever the patient requires, and if that means raising taxes, so be it.

And, as an academic proposition, they are not wrong. It’s just stupid politics though. If Hammond was half as good as he thinks he is, he would have recognised immediately this is not the moment to reopen arguably the most toxic issue for the Tory brand, the prospect of tax increases.

Hammond playing the fool is no surprise. What is, is that Theresa May apparently went along with it. Which suggests Theresa May is no Margaret Thatcher, who knew instinctively what played with the voters, and what didn’t.

Where Mrs May is good is articulating what ordinary people are bothered about. Her background as a vicar’s daughter is so different from the privileged background of Dave Cameron, which is why she cares about energy prices, and her advocacy of the problems of the JAMs – the Just About Managings, of which there are millions – is electorally extremely potent.

But it was equally plain this weekend that she lacks Mrs Thatcher’s decisiveness, and determination, and indeed, courage.

Because, in a decision that has not been as much noticed as it should have been, she has apparently decided not to scrap Dave’s absurd commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid.

Typical gesture politics by Dave to commit himself to a six decade old policy that has no relevance to today’s world, and the rest of the world ignores.

Typical too of Dave that he cut with enthusiasm our defence budget and our police budgets, at a time when there is a national imperative to keep our defence forces and the police strong, whilst effectively handing the Aid Department £13 billion, much of which they don’t have a clue how to spend.

Bill Gates says it is the poor and the diseased who will suffer if there is a cut. Rubbish. They can be helped on a far smaller budget. The people who will really lose out if that commitment is scrapped are the fat cat consultants who come up with all manner of expensive schemes, designed to give them and their firms a huge payday, without any evidence whatsoever that there is any benefit to the world’s poor.

It’s disappointing that Theresa May’s concept of leadership does not embrace removing this blot on the public expenditure landscape. Public expenditure should be used to finance necessary projects. Public expenditure should never be an arbitrary sum for which projects, good bad or indifferent, have then to be found.

She will probably get away with all this because of Corbyn. But it doesn’t bode well for her premiership going forward.