The Tory Party Conference. Well that was interesting. Any talk of defence cuts, coalitions or the Big Society was roundly overshadowed by a mushrooming- pardon the language- clusterf*** surrounding the decision to withdraw child benefit from families with at least one parent paying the higher rate of income tax. At the start of the week George Osborne announced on breakfast television a fairly reasonable policy to help save £1bn a year whilst only affecting roughly 15% of families. Yet it quickly became clear that the policy was both uncooked, in it's collateral effect on stay-at-home mums and others in similar positions, and unknown, in its sudden announcement that seemed as new to your standard hack as it did to members of the Cabinet (illustrated by May's tete-a-tete with Paxman on Tuesday's Newsnight).
And so the fun began. The policy was savaged not only from the left, but was also attacked from the right as being an attack on the core of the Conservative's support and for perpetuating the image that Cameron and Osborne are smarmy faced, knee-deep in money, posh boys, 'unable to relate to the day-to-day concerns of the voters'- which, incidentally, is what they are. With his back against the wall Cameron reached for one of his true-blue policies, a tax-break for married couples, but not only would this negate a lot of the savings accrued through the child benefit purge, it is also an archaic, puzzlingly large-state, interfering, hash of a policy, with little place in modern Britain. The Tories had let the storyline get way out of hand. On October 20th the Comprehensive Spending Review will be announced, and the child benefit cut was something of a dry run. The Conservative's have had a sniff of their chosen medicine for deficit reduction and it doesn't smell good. Problem is, they're committed to it.
A face that kept popping up throughout the Tory conference was that of their party chairman, Baroness Warsi. She had a poor week to say the least. It all started rather badly when on the Sunday preceding the conference she yapped her way through a grilling by John Sopel about her accusations of electoral fraud and, in doing so, managed the remarkable feat of not making Kelvin Makenzie look like the biggest tool in an interview. Then on Thursday she suffered the ignominy of being jeered by the baying-for-blood, savages that make up the Question Time audience these days whilst trying to defend the child benefit cut. To be fair it seemed a poor choice on the part of the Tories, like sending out your number 11 batsman to face the oppositions best bowler, but Warsi did herself no favours. When in a corner she attacks in an unpleasant manner reminiscent of Ed Balls, yet she lacks any of the upside that Balls, despite his drawbacks, brings to the Labour party. If Liam Fox isn't the next Cabinet minister to depart then the smart money's on Warsi.
Speaking of Ed Balls, one must wonder what would feel worse. After waiting patiently for your dream job of shadow chancellor for several years, being passed over for that job for your wife, or being overlooked for that job for someone with no economic experience. Clearly Alan Johnson's appointment is a victory of pragmatism over politics, with Ed Miliband not wishing to invite further speculation on family feuds within the Labour Party, but you can't help but feel slightly sorry for Balls who has been pining after the job since the first shudders in the Brown administration. As Shadow Home Secretary, however, he can be an asset as he brings his combative style up against one of the weaker Ministers in Theresa May. Whilst both Milibands, Balls, and Yvette Cooper are all obviously talented politicians, one can only hope that Ed Miliband's 'new generation' can move beyond the kind of internal politics that are more reminiscent of a bickering family than of a democratic party.