I’ve not blogged much on the campaign up to now. Sorry. I’ve recuperated from an illness (on the mend, thanks for asking) and done a bit of door-stepping in Newcastle North where it seems to rain a lot. The opening day I deliberately avoided. I knew it would just be talking heads on College Green. Very dull television and no better in print. I did note that Huw Edwards stood opposite 10 Downing Street for 14 hours. I mean he probably had quite big breaks in the middle, but even so. Working Time Directives and all that.
As I previously posted in predictably prime prosody, up to now this election is still all about the economy, stupid. The two main parties are arguing over the Tories’ plan to stop the announced rise of National Insurance Contributions. The first two days have been predictable enough. Press conferences followed by pre-arranged photo-opportunities around the country. Nothing earth-shattering, but then it is early days.
Yesterday, team Cameron tried to change the campaign’s focus onto
something else by announcing their National Citizen Service plan. This is the scheme to get 16 year-old school leavers to volunteer for 2 months of ‘citizen service’ on community projects. The Tories have said this scheme will cost £5million per 1000 children. There are 600,000 school leavers this year so that would be a potential annual cost of £3billion. Tories haven’t said how they’re funding this non-starter. What they did instead was get a celebrity endorsement. Someone to represent the 16-year-olds of our country. The kids who have nothing. The kids who live in Broken Britain. The kids who will obviously jump at the chance to volunteer to fix that same Broken Britain. A voice of youth, a voice of school-leavers everywhere, a voice of, well, A Muppet Christmas Carol actually. 77-year-old multi-millionaire tax exile, Sir Michael Caine. Hmm.
Anyway, none of this foolishness distracted from the continuing row over National Insurance. Newsnight had booked Liam Byrne to make Labour’s case against the Tory cuts. Fairly routine so far. They’d also booked Dragon’s Den star James Caan to rebut Byrne’s argument. Paxman was in the chair and it was going to be the usual to-and-fro. Byrne made the Labour case fairly well. And then Paxman turned to the Dragon for the other side of the coin. He couldn’t have looked more flustered if he’d tried. The reason was that Caan said
I’ve had a closer look at the Tory policy on this and it doesn’t make sense…. The rise would cost an employer £15 a month more…. If you really needed to employ someone for twenty grand, you wouldn’t refuse because of an extra 15 quid
So Caan came out strongly against the Tory policy and made the argument that Mandelson should’ve been making all along. Byrne looked rather pleased. Paxo looked flustered then furious. I laughed quite a lot.