A worried Crewe

Yesterday I visited Crewe to help with the by-election. The Labour vote was crumbling as we visited. Practically everyone I spoke to was angry about the big increases in petrol and diesel prices, food prices, and the vanishing 10p tax band. Understandably, they felt their family budgets were being squeezed too much, and, understandably, they blamed the government for the part that tax has played in all this. I canvassed into the evening, long after the news first broke about the government’s spectacular U-Turn – for one year and for one by-election only – on income tax, but it made no immediate impact on the feelings of voters, bruised by tax bills and inflation. Life-long Labour voters confessed they were having to think long and hard this time, because they could not believe how their party had let them down over tax and the economy.

The Conservative operation seemed well-organised, with plenty of good material being put out containing strong messages about the war on motorists and the squeeze on incomes. There was a detailed set of arguments being conducted by several parties, about who had the most or least local candidate, which preoccupied some voters, but overall the issue was simple: “We’ve had enough. We can’t afford all the bills”.

Labour’s backbenchers, ably led by Frank Field, “got it” well before the government. The Chancellor has gone from zero to hero with Labour MPs for his lend-lease approach to tax reductions. He hopes his one-year special offer of a tax cut paid for by yet more borrowing will take the political trick. The danger for Labour is that people will say “Too little, too late”. They may also worry that because this government cannot afford the tax cut, it is but taxation deferred. We will all be paying for this tax cut – with interest – as we are having to borrow it. It would have all been better if the Chancellor had been able to say this would apply for more than just one year, and if he had covered its cost by reducing wasteful and needless spending. Goodness knows, there’s enough of that to pay for this modest reduction. The Taxpayers Alliance found £82 billion of waste in its 2006 book, and even the government found more than £20 billion.

On the trains, there and back, I saw plenty of Conservative MPs but not one Labour MP. Are they still shy about facing the voters of Crewe?

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5 Comments

  1. mikestallard
    Posted May 14, 2008 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    I am really impressed – let me say – with your attitude: you get stuck in, meet the people, listen to them rather than tell them, and, I think, actually like them.
    It is quite obvious by now that the government despises us, doesn't like us, wants to improve us and has absolutely no idea how intelligent and clued up we are as a nation.
    I think that most people can see that whenever Gordon Brown does a give away that the small print is where the claw back lies cleverly hidden.
    Crewe is a place where good old Labour – the Labour of the working class and Methodist Church had a good grip. What a shame it is now all but gone!

  2. Simon_C
    Posted May 14, 2008 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I was thinking about all this 10p and local elections the other day.

    Didn't Gordon announce the removal of the 10p before Tony decided to stand down ? Do you think there's any chance he planned for this to come to light shortly before the local elections where Tony would then have got a drubbing. Gordon would then come to the rescue with a revised budget and then take the leadership ?

    Nah, he couldn't be that Machivelion. Could he ? ….

    Well, it probably isn't the case. because it would have been difficult for it to look like it was him comming to the rescue of his budget. But the alternate explanation is that he was either stupid to see what his tax change would do, or too proud to listen to the advisers telling him this is what it would do.

  3. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted May 14, 2008 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    Well done John ! Can we win Crewe ? In the words of the next US President : ' Yes We Can !'

    We have a week to make the positive case for a Tory MP for Crewe & Nantwich while hoping that the Labour vote falls away. Looking at the ICM poll putting us on 43% , Labour on 39% and the Lib Dems on 17% we can point out to the Lib Dems that they cannot win & if they want to send the government a message then voting Tory is the way to do it . Labour's mindless campaign of class hate is stupid. (Disparaging remarks about Conservatives left out as ed thought them grossly inaccurate) Simply pandering to the worst instincts of a section of your core vote will not reach the wider electorate & thus cause defeat. Labour have not learned from the errors of messars Hague & Howard . At least we are clearly in second place & led Labour by 16% in Crewe & Nantwich in the local elections of a fortnight ago. That is a 16% swing compared to the 2005 general election – we only need about half that to win the seat .

    Nantwich is more Tory – rather like the outer areas of London. So if turnout is higher in Nantwich while the Labour vote stays at home in Crewe we can win . This Labour bribe is too little too late & voters in this seat are more angry about Gordon Brown's failings than the Tory PPC being pretty well off. The Lib Dems as in London are failing to make up much ground & telling people that voting Lib Dem is helping Gordon Brown might be an idea !

  4. Jonathan Robson
    Posted May 14, 2008 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    I wish the Conservatives well in the by-election. It is a strange thing through years of this sinister New Labour government (some) people have still voted for them – it seems that the old adage applies that people only realise the problem when it hits them in the pocket.

  5. Ian Evans
    Posted May 15, 2008 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    It strikes me that NuLabour are doing a bit of sleight of hand with the 10p issue. They are trying to do 2 things with our 2.7bn – but you can only 'give' this something once.

    Firstly, they seek to compensate the poor (or 80% of the losers) for losing out from the 10p shambles – well, ok, they have done a reasonable thing there.

    Secondly, however, they are 'giving' a tax handout – but guess what, who are the losers there? Two lots, first the rich (which is ok), but also those poor who previously lost out relative to the 10p debacle! The latter EITHER get compensation OR they get the handout but not both!

    So, by not targetting the money, NuLabour have, on the one hand, compensated the initial losers, but, on the other hand, they have then made them losers with respect to the tax rebate. You just couldn't make it up. Surely, the problem remains!

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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