Thursday, 24 March 2011

Has Cameron now broken his "read my lips" pledge?

George Osborne did not mention in his budget speech that he is introducing cuts to the winter fuel payments to pensioners, as The Telegraph reports

Last night, it also emerged that pensioners are to lose out on winter fuel “top-up” payments that help them when bills are rising. This means the over-80s will see their payment reduced from £400 to £300. The allowance paid to the over-60s will drop by £50 to £200.

The Chancellor is likely to come under fire for cowardice for burying the policy change, and then dribbling it out in the press.

More worrying for Downing Street, can David Cameron now claim to have kept his "read my lips" promise to pensioners, as noted by the BBC's Nick Robinson on the eve of the election?

Here's the full quote on the eve of the election.

I want to say to British people clearly and frankly this; if you are elderly, if you are frail, if you are poor, if you are needy a Conservative Government will always look after you.

On the journey we need to take this country on no one will be left behind.

And let me say very clearly to pensioners if you have a Conservative Government your Winter Fuel Allowance, your bus pass, your Pension Credit, your free TV licence all these things are safe.

You can read my lips, that is a promise from my heart.

Don’t believe the lies you’re being told by the Labour Party

Is there any wiggle room there to cut winter fuel allowance payments, or to say that some of the top-up payments don't count as part of the benefit.


Because Cameron also, during the campaign, used the phrase "we will keep what we inherit in all these important areas", in a March press conference in which he accused Labour of lying about his intentions, David Cameron explicitly ruled out any change such as the cut he has now introduced.

Tom Harris blogged the exchange with the BBC's James Lansdale, in which it is quite clear that Cameron is ruling out any significant changes to pensioner benefits, by saying he would not cut the allowance, and then agreeing that he would not change them in any way.

"Let me take this opportunity to say very clearly to any pensioner who is watching this or or reading any of these reports: I know you are getting letters from the Labour Party that says (sic) the Conservative Party would cut the Winter Fuel Allowance, would cut the free bus travel, would cut free television licenses.

Those statements by Labour are quite simply lies. I don’t use the word “lie” very often but I use it today because they are lies. A Conservative government would keep the winter fuel allowance, would keep the free television licence, would keep the extra money for pensioners".

If things had been left at that, Cameron would still have had some wiggle room as far as the Winter Fuel Allowance was concerned; after all, keeping a benefit doesn’t necessarily exclude restricting or rationing it at some point. But Lansdale persevered:

Just to be clear, you would keep the benefits but you would not change them in any way? You will not means test, you will not change the criteria?

And the soon-to-be PM was refreshingly unequivocal:

We will keep what we will inherit in all these important areas.

This was at the Cameron press conference on 23rd March - and the Daily Mail reported the "keep what what inherit" commitment in its report the following day.

But Mr Cameron accused Labour of 'trying to scare' the elderly by claiming that if elected his party would scrap the winter fuel allowance, free bus travel and free TV licences.

At his monthly press conference, he said: 'We will keep what we inherit in all these areas.

'All these things that Labour are saying are complete and utter lies, and they know it too.

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