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Perils of political promises

Nick Robinson | 09:55 UK time, Monday, 23 March 2009

Ken Clarke was, as ever, telling it like it is.

Ken ClarkeHe was saying, in effect: "Look, unlike most of you, I know what it's like to be chancellor staring into a massive budgetary black hole. The only debates you have about tax are which to raise and the only ones on spending are what to cut. Back then - the early 90s - borrowing was 8% of GDP. Now it's predicted to rise to a staggering 11%. Therefore, any promise to spend any money at all can only be an aspiration."

He was reflecting a view held by a number of senior figures in the Tory leadership who also worry about sticking with a pledge to cut tax for the wealthy at a time when the party's trying to re-assure voters that the poor will not face an undue burden when taxes have to be raised and spending has to be cut.

David Cameron's answer to all this is simple. He's told his colleagues that "a promise is a promise" and that this is one of the few specific Tory pledges the public are aware of. To drop it, he fears, would reinforce public scepticism about the value of any political promise.

This is a classic lesson in the perils for an Opposition party of announcing specific tax and spending policies. New Labour types know this only too well - they remember John Smith's shadow Budget in 1992.

What sounds good at the time can look very very different when times change. You are then faced with the stark choice of eating your words and looking shifty or sticking with them and facing allegations that given a billion quid you'd rather spent it on the rich than on... (insert a worthy cause here).

PS. It looks like Tony McNulty could be in hot water since he seems to be saying that he used his parents' house in his constituency as a base and not as somewhere to sleep which is what the Additional Cost Allowance is meant to pay for.


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  • Comment number 1.

    Extra Extra Ken Clarke is a sensible economist.
    ps shhh a labour MP has been scamming the taxpayer.

    These items should be the other way around Nick

  • Comment number 2.

    In response to the question: 'Are your tax policies in disarray?'. The response should be: 'No, the economy and public finances are in disarray and until we know where we stand all promises need to be put on hold.' That's being responsible politicians. Saying that they will be standing by tax cutting policies is just nonsense and totally unbelievable and the electorate won't thank them. Get a grip Cameron.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    The inheritance tax concessions announced by George Osborne at Conservative Party Conference last year were the catalyst to their leap in the polls against Labour which is also prevalent today.

    Clark would be wise to keep schtum (if that is the correct spelling!).

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm sure Grandantidote will be able to justify Tony McNulty's flagrant breach of the rules here. After all, in his eyes, Labour can do no wrong.

    I await his comments.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    Good old Ken eh Nick given you something to criticse the Tories with ?

    Must have come as a relief after another week of more Labour failures.

    I would think and hope that another Cabinet Minister in the spotlight with expenses would have been much more newsworthy than Ken making an "of the cuff " remark about a possible Tax change.

    I note that elswhere when ever McNultys expenses have been mentioned the BBC always adds a footnote re Dereck Conway no mention of Jackie Smith!! why would that be?? surley not bias?

  • Comment number 8.

    I have always thought that most politicians are basically honest, and in the business for the public good. But it's difficult to maintain that view when Conway, Slipman, and now MacNulty (to name but three) seem to think it's OK to push the letter of the law to it's limits (or beyond) while ignoring the spirit. Sad.

  • Comment number 9.

    The problem for the Tories is that the present government shows no sign of doing the decent thing and calling a general election now. They are going to cling on until the last possible minute. And, while they remain in power, they are mucking up the nation's finances. Big time. Because the Tories can reasonably expect to win, they - unlike Brown and Darling - have to think about how to clear up the mess which is being created. The big story is not the Tories' reaction, but the antics of the goverment which is living on the never-never.

  • Comment number 10.

    Nick, you seem to have slipped back into your old ways again !!!! 26 lines about nothing (Ken Clarkes reasonable assumption that changing inheritance tax threshold will not be a massive priority due to the mess of the finances this government have made), and continue to make. How on earth can an opposition party give exact details of what and when taxes will be introduced if elected in a years time.
    Only 3 lines about the theft of possibly up to £100K of taxpayers money by Tony McNulty. He should be in jail, not hot water, along with Smith, Balls, Cooper, Martins and a couple of conservative MP's and MEP's.

  • Comment number 11.

    It is good to point out how things have changed with ZuNuLiebore destruction of the economy since the pledge to change this tax back to a tax on the rich, and not the people who have the misfortune to have been sensible during their lives.

    Yet again we have the liebore die-hards clutching at straws and shouting 'disarray' when the opposition have to state the truth.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    The BBC are constantly pushing the Tories to give more detail on policy.

    Now Nick points out the perils of providing the details of future tax policies? Er?

    Can I donate a lawn mower to Parliament? There is too much long grass to push enquiries into - MPs expenses will be investigated in the Autumn.

    McNulty can rest easy - we will have all moved on by then to a policy split in the Tory party. According to a BBC lead item. Why did the sad news of Jade Goody's death take up 30minutes on News 24?

  • Comment number 14.

    It's laughable.
    The plan to increase IHT thresholds was announced 18 months ago, and we still have at least a year to wait to get rid of the obstruction to progress that this government now represents.
    In light of the financial and economic damage that has been wreaked by this bunch of incompetents it is only sensible and prudent to suggest that some plans may take a little while to implement. After all, although it was only a few people, in banks, regulators, and government, that are responsible for our propblems, it is ALL of us who have to pay the price.

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    Another blog on the language involved.

    It would appear that there is no allowance for flexibility in policy. Whilst we know that Brown and Co are backed against the wall with the floor slowly falling away in front of them...I don't think the Tories can be blamed for not knowing the figures, and it could be seen as disingenuous for the Labour spin machine to actually point the finger when they themselves have no room for manoeuvre.

    As to the McNulty case, if he has broken the rules (as well as the spirit of the rules) I hope that he pays it back. Is there any other sanction beyond that which can be taken? I suppose at least Jackie sleeps in her sister's house occasionally.

  • Comment number 17.

    What the tories need to do to ensure an election landslide is to tell us where they want to be once they've sorted out Brown mess.

    A small state & significantly lower tax burden (30% reduction at least is more than achievable - Brown put it up by 100%), along with a promise that no nurse, doctor or teacher will be made redundant.

    Then set out a 5 year plan to get there. We're not stupid & realise there's a bit of pain to go through, although most of this pain can easily be absorbed by slashing beaurocracy in the civil service.

    As for McNulty - ALL these thieves from whatever party should be banned from holding any public sector office for life. If it means there's only 50 MPs left then so be it - the loss of scroungers is never something we should regret.

  • Comment number 18.

    I have to say this makes sense. The policy was announced before this Labour country set the country back 30 years by runing the economy again!
    As John Maynard Keynes famously never said, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"
    The country has moved on a lot since this policy announcement frightened Crash out of calling an election. Until the truth about the nations finances is told nobody knows what scope there is to change tax policy. Nick is right on that point and we, the people, are not as stupid as politicians think. I think everyone knows we are in for a rough ride for the next few years.

  • Comment number 19.

    I thought Peter Oborne's Political Class book was over agitated and febrile in tone (Which is inevitably what one succumbs to working for the Daily mail) but it is insightful into the situation where we now find ourselves.

    The 'leave it to us' sections of society...Bankers, Professional politicians and the Civil service (Well, what we used to understand as the civil service), and many journalists have been exposed by the credit crunch as living in an extremely comfortable state of delusion and denial.

    The fun now is seeing the quite wonderful constructions being built to explain why 'they said what they did' back then in the glorious summer of 02-07 before the carnage began.

    My own favourite is the leader column of the FT and their op-ed pages where the state of denial rivals anything exhibited by Will Hutton or Gordon Brown.

    I wouldn't advocate anyone buying the book--- ...rather in the new spirit of the age, after a hard day on the urban farm (that's the back garden vegetable plot as was) one can settle in the dimly flickering light of the energy saving bulb's eerie glow (-----another 'half thought through' but ' completely rushed through' knee-jerk policy designed presentationally first and then worked backwards from there to the sadly disappointing actuarial reality)and enjoy a tome from the library........if the libraries are still buying books.... I imagine they probably have a whole new paradigm these days.
    To respond more directly to the points in the piece.

    1)Everyone knows now taxes are going up, and up again.
    2)Ditto Public spending will drop.
    3) David Cameron could drop the pledge---the recession about to hit means the past IS another country and every voter knows that.
    4) Tony McNulty?...Word's just fail me.... Not because he's caught like a naughty schoolboy stammering with nothing to say--- but because so many more of them are as well...from Oleg Deripaska's yacht to the North Staffordshire Hospital to Iraq and Afghanistan run lines of sheer incompetence and a hubris that 'the system' would run itself, so Politics had become spin, the substance being spun of no relevance.

    So it's all down to Barrack Obama...and maybe he will take us from Glad Confident Morning to sunny, endless afternoon in which tax rises are small and spending cuts averted; but one doesn't have to be even out of one's teens to remember the last person in a nice suit with a ready smile singing seductively that 'things could only get better'---to realise that they might not.

  • Comment number 20.


    what people have to understand is that it is the current taxpaying public who should be paying the taxes not my children and grandchildren.

    What has to understood is that it is the whole world wide economy which is total disarray. I find it totally unaccepetable that this current government is trying to save the economy by indebting the future generations. If anything I would like taxes to be split as follows;

    0-20,000 no taxes whatsoever
    20,000-100,000 40%
    100,000> 60%

    However, I would like Natonal Insurance to be merged with Income Tax,and for Capital Gains tax to be abolished, and the restoration of the Poll Tax, so that everybody pays for services, not just the householders. All profits to be taxed as income and no tax allowances at all, totally none.

    As for McNulty and the rest, shame on them. There must be a general increase for MPs and again like us, no allowances for anything.

  • Comment number 21.

    If there's any story here it's about the dire state of public finances under this Government. It would be worrying if the Conservatives weren't reassessing commitments under these circumstances. You at least seem to appreciate this Nick - it's a pity the rest of the BBC news department appear not to.

  • Comment number 22.

    I will welcome any tax cuts that means the country can get 'spending again' and help the economy to start recovering.

    Perhaps they could reintroduce the 10p tax, keep vat at 15% but cut civil service pensions so they receive an average of what the private secter pensions are now worth for the vast majority.

    They could also disband all quango's or just make them a voluntary committee (bit like school govenors?)

  • Comment number 23.


    All I will say about your PS and Mr McNulty.

    Quote from Harriet harman on a recent Sunday Politics Show when talking about Sir Fred`s RBS pension.

    "And it might be enforceable in a court of law, this contract, but it is not enforceable in the court of public opinion and that is where the government steps in."

    Hm! Never mind policy promises - TB didn`t stick to them much anyway. Seems NuLabour has scored another triumphant. Speaking off the cuff and not thinking things through always has a habit of returning to haunt you. I take it you will be speaking to Ms Harman and asking her as Leader of the House what she and the Prime Minister (Gordon not Mandy) intends doing about Mr McNulty as clearly the court of public opinion has decided he is guilty - although of course his claim may have well been within the rules.

  • Comment number 24.

    I don't think that any Conservative tax pledge at this stage can be taken seriously. That is more of a reflection of how utterly disastrously this Labour Government have wrecked the economy, than showing how much disarray the Conservatives are in.

    When the situation in the country changes, then policies MUST change to reflect the changing reality. The problem is that the situation is changing so rapidly, and in the wrong direction, that the Conservatives are having a great deal of difficulty keeping up. Which is a great deal more than can be said for labour. A full year after the recession started here, they are STILL spending as if we were still in a boom. They are insane!

    As for Tony McNulty, he is the man who when he was a junior minister in the Home Office proved that we are NOT living in a country that was heading towards totalitarianism by use of the following statement,

    "We are not knocking down doors at four in the morning with people booted and suited in riot gear. Most of the removals occur around half-five, half-six, seven in the morning."

    PHEW, am I relieved to know that. We are not a totalitarian state because we let our detainees have a bit more of a lie-in before they are dragged off for their "enhanced interrogation" and there I was getting worried about "Big Brother" and the army of private snoopers and stazi like informers the Government is currently recruiting to spy on and inform on whatever the government may consider "terrorist or potential terrorist activity". That must be leaving a bin a bit too full then, or claiming housing benefits as a single person when actually living with a partner, (but not claiming even greater amounts of tax-payer's money by the dubious assertion that a sister's spare room is a "main residence"). But no, all the intrusive databases, all the tracking and monitoring and building up threat profiles on all of us is NOT a sign of growing totalitarianism, because if the jack-booted thugs kick-in our doors, then we will have had a bit more of a lie-in than in REAL despotic regimes!

    Election now please!
  • Comment number 25.

    Tony McNulty; yet another "snout in the trough" New Labour politician found guilty-as-hell in Judge Harman's court of public opinion.

  • Comment number 26.

    The most important issue at the moment is MP's expenses, and the contemptible way that they treat us.
    It is sickening to see some of the figures that have been claimed by these people, for a perk that is unavailable to anybody else in this copuntry, and who ultimately has to pay for it.
    There should be a large hotel, or hostel, where all MP's could have a room for use in London. They can choose to use it, or to commute home, daily, as the rest of us have to. Also, this should NOT be free, but they should pay, so they can truly share our misery, and understand what the real problems are in this country.

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 28.


    I don't have a problem with what Ken has said. I do have a problem with the reaction of Cameron and Osborne. We have had 12 years of spin and obfuscation. Please, please let's have no more.

    What I would like to see from Cameron is honesty.

    The Father who promises his boy a bike for his birthday and then loses his job, sits the boy down and explains times are tough and he cannot afford the bike.

    As each week goes by it is becoming increasingly clear that the next Government will have to concentrate on reducing borrowing and aspire to keeping taxes as flat as possible to avoid disincentivising wealth creation. In fact, all parties acknowledge that taxes will have to go up.

    To continue with the inheritance tax promise, particularly as house prices have tanked, is not just stupid it is economically unjustifiable.

    Mr Cameron, we are all grown ups. We read the newspapers, we watch the news. Confine spin to NuLab's obituary and be honest with the electorate.

    After all, despite what Brown would have us believe; this recession is not your fault. Be brave, tell your spin doctors to go get a proper job and tell it like it is.

  • Comment number 29.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 30.


    Please enlighten me. I accept that the Tories revising their tax and spend commitments for the next Parliament, in light of the deteriorating state of the public finances, is a newsworthy event. Ditto apparent Tory divisions on the subject. But did this story really deserve saturation coverage on the BBC last night? The lead story! On a slow news day, perhaps, but yesterday was not a slow news day. Aren’t you a little embarrassed that none of your TV competitors followed your lead? My interest springs from this apparent contradiction – for some time, the GVN has been quietly readjusting its own projected spending plans – downwards – but no-one in the BBC is talking of Labour cuts to public services etc… Exactly why is that?

    As a Londoner, perhaps you might also like to enquire of the Politics Show team, why they didn’t ask Ken Livingstone (who was a guest on their show, yesterday) about the Independent Audit Commission Report into the running of the LDA. Apparently, inept management meant that “tens of millions were wasted” under his watch. Thankfully, though - it would appear that the LDA has improved considerably under Boris. Now since Ken has just announced his intention to run again, I thought this line of questioning might have been newsworthy… but apparently not. Again – why is this?

  • Comment number 31.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 32.

    Nick - what about mcnulty and griffiths or even Lord myners ?

    If you believe that you don't need to cover labour sleaze because they are already beyond all hope, could you just say so - then we won't need to keep asking why you mainly popup when there is a potential tory story and go missing when labour are in it up to their necks...

  • Comment number 33.

    I find this story frankly depressing. If changing inheritance tax is a "flagship" of the reviving Conservative party, then our next government will surely be Labour. What about the unfairness of Council tax, especially to the single occupier and the low paid? What about the soaring unemployement? What about pensions that have been sailing down the toilet this past year? What about the chronic shortage of social housing?

    I can't help but think that the Conservatives are wooing a small number of people and in so doing they are failing to bring into focus what the country needs to help redress the imbalance that has arisen over the last dozen years.

    We've heard about Council tax being held for a year or two. We've heard of the TV license being held for a year - but these don't begin to address the basic unfairness of flat rates of tax/fee in these areas, to me it feels like lifting a straw off the camel's back and that is all.

    I'm a conservative supporter, but I await a message of some substance from the party, something I can vote for. The discussion about Inheritance tax is doing nothing at all for me.

  • Comment number 34.

    Facinating Nick, you are very concerned with what the Tories have and have not said. You are trying to build up anything that Cameron says, including the 'phoney' remark, or what any Tory says. Let us stick to facts.

    Brown said that we are better placed than any country to face the recession/depression we are now entering??????
    Each time a government minister comes on tv and, makes anannouncements about initiatives, could you do a follow up and let us know how successful any of these are proving to be? They are totally out of their depth in every area. There is a wealth of items for a man of your quality to report about.

    Bringing Ken Clarke was a great move for the Tories, he has experience that will serve us well in this terrible mess that Labour have created, (this is not some flu that we caught) and we need some wise people to contribute.

    So far every one of the people Labour have drafted in have been wanting in some way, and have not been up to the job, rather like themselves. They have spent the past 12 years cosying up to a huge number of people that we now know have wrecked the economy to an unprecedented way. No one takes responsibility for anything. This applies right through all the public services. THAT is something you could report on.

    The public are pretty fed up with being criminalised for puting out their rubbish on the wrong day whilst an NHS trust have seriously neglected hundreds of people with dire consequences over a number of years. Yet, those in charge are suspended on full pay. Ah, lessons have been learned, do I hear?

    NO ONE TAKES RESPONSIBILITY, that is what we have learned in the 12 years of this Labour government, so I am worried less about what about what wil or will not happen when I die. I am, however, very concerned about how it is now. The fact that this government has destroyed my future, my childrens future, and my grandchildrens future is of great concern to me. They did it because they are the KNOW NOTHING PARTY.

  • Comment number 35.

    Unfortunately, the authorities in charge of the rules concerning MPs' expenses are still under the misapprehension that MPs are "honorable" Members of Parliament and can be "trusted" to not abuse the expenses system.

    They should be aware by now, as any reasoned observer would be, that there is little "honour" to be found in recent Parliaments on either side of the chamber.

    In the "Court of Public Opinion"TM they are likely to receive the same verdict as the plight of certain banking executives currently diverting attention from the crisis in our economy.

    The MPs' expenses should, at the very least, be under the same rules as those of the Civil Service.

  • Comment number 36.

    Jim Brant,

    I have no doubt that Gordon Brown told the truth when he said he went in to politics to combat unemployment and poverty. However as with all nulabour pronouncements (in delphic oracle style) it doesn't mean what it appears to mean -- Brown was actually got into politics to address his own unemployment and poverty - by getting a well paid, secure job at public expense - and his motives are still unchanged.

  • Comment number 37.

    Stop the Press.

    Important news : Outside of my window I have just seen a rabbit nibbling at a daffodil. This latest development comes as a shock as they normally spend the day munching on the grass. The rabbit declined to comment on the recent developments.

    PS. The rats are on the fiddle again.

    What a load of tosh!

  • Comment number 38.

    3 lines on McNulty a page on Clarke - that's what I call balanced journalism!

  • Comment number 39.

    Perils of political promises.

    Would that include "No more boom and bust"?

  • Comment number 40.

    In the last blog someone predicted that Nick Robinson would use the tories tax announcements as his next blog an lo! it came to pass. They also made some facetious comment about lemon drizzle cake. My comment was moderated because I mentioned the lemon drizzle cake. And I notice that the original posting by LGeorgeKnewMyFather (or something!) has also been moderated.

    What about a blog on the dangers of being a political correspondent for an ostensibly unbiased yet government dependent organisation like the BBC?

  • Comment number 41.

    It was a campaign promise! President Obama made light of something else the other day. Dog Days might be an apt phrase.

    Why are political promises so charged with magic? I went looking for the simple response to all this chest thumping via a search engine.


    "(John Maynard) Keynes himself retorted once (to a critic charging him with inconsistency), “when circumstances change, I change my views. What do you do Sir?” Unquote.

  • Comment number 42.

    McNulty should resign. Call in the Metropolitan police.

  • Comment number 43.

    Rather strange priorities if you don't mind me saying so, old son. If there is a story in the Tory Inheritance Tax confusion, it is that there appear to be some Tories who don't yet know we're in a recession. When they eventually do get round to tax cuts, presumably some time towards the end of their second term, we'll be lucky if it brings the tax burden back to where it is today.

    No, I'm afraid for one so quick to criticise others for missing an open goal, you've sent this one flying over the bar. Fingers McNulty has well and truly stuffed the lot of them with this one. Jackboots was one thing (it might have been her sister's spare room but at least she stayed there a couple of nights a week), this is something else entirely. It's every bit as crooked as Conway and if the government does not now accept that total reform is now a necessity, they will have lost any last vestige of trust from the electorate.

    Which do you consider more important: Opposition tax proposals or Government Ministers swindling taxpayers?

  • Comment number 44.


    If your precious Labour government had not destroyed our economy unlike any government seen in history then the Tories would be in a position to start giving hard working brits their money back after the next election.

    As it is, it looks like once again the Tories will have to pick up the mess from another Socialist bungling government.

    Lets keep the spotlight on your Labour party until a general election is called, afterall, they are in power arnt they?

  • Comment number 45.


    Maybe you as a journalist should take a leaf out of Ken Clarke's book and start 'telling it like it is'??

  • Comment number 46.

    Although I'm not a Conservative supporter, surely anyone with any sense would understand that 'promises' (or cards played) made in September 2007 regarding tax cuts should be forgotten - we're in a completely new era.

    Ken Clarke was simply stating the reality but unfortunately the right wing of his party don't seem to have caught-up yet.

    #8 jimbrant

    Although I think you're generally right when it comes to backbenchers, ministers/Prime Minister(s) it appears, seem to be after everything they can get - including directorships at companies that seem to benefit from their 'expertise' once they've left their post on the front benches.

  • Comment number 47.

    6. s At 10:31am on 23 Mar 2009, Poprishchin

    It just goes to show, you can't be too careful!


    You can't have your cake and eat it.

  • Comment number 48.

    PS. It looks like Tony McNulty....

    You really are a good little Labour lad Nick.


  • Comment number 49.


    As BBC Political Editor - how do you respond to John Redwood's criticisms regarding the Ken Clarke issue?

    Why would the BBC move heaven and earth to get comment from John Redwood on this issue, but ignore his very interesting views on better ways of tackling the banking crisis?

    Which subject is in the greater public interest?

  • Comment number 50.

    8. jimbrant

    And lets not forget our 3 Labour Lords who (allegedly) charge 120k to change the law.

  • Comment number 51.

    This is yet another non story the announcement that is that Inheritance tax changes will be put on the back burner until the economy is sorted out. Noone said the plans were going to be scrapped completely so what's the problem? As for McNulty never really liked the guy and now it seems he has been found out. No rules broken but yet again the taxpayer taken for a ride in difficult times. How can you take his words on unemployment and jobs seriously when he has been screwing the taxpayer for thousands?

  • Comment number 52.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 53.

    Mr Robinson,

    The Ernst and Young Item Club now forecasts a 12.6% deficit next year, so higher than the 11% you mention, and a deficit in the following 9 years. Please note that this excludes any extra discretionary stimulus over the higher unemployment benefits and lower tax take - so why is Brown trying to make more prudent Germany, which will add discretionary stimulus, a scapegoat? Please also note that the public finances were deteriorating prior to the start of the crisis because Brown ran a deficit of close to 3% in 2005/6. Time and time again the IMF warned chancellor Brown that the fiscal position could well be unsustainable.

    If you want to read why the research in favour of fiscal stimulus and its effectiveness put forward by the Obama administration is shaky at best, may I recommend you a paper called

    New keynesian versus Old Keynesian Government Spending Multipliers

    by 4 economists including John Taylor who devised the Taylor rule for interest rate setting by central banks. It can be easily found on the web but the bbc won't post the link.


    PS When do we get all the ins and outs about the experienced Brown's subletting of his constituency office?

    PS2 What's the word on Mr Myners - will he be dropped soon following claims he has at least seen a bit of paperwork for a new company in a tax haven?

    PS3 When will we get an overview listing which tax haven was responsible for the collapse of any of the following banks: Northern Rock (with Wanless on its board), Alliance and Leicester (which had Higgs on its board), HBoS (with Crosby), RBoS, Bradford and Bingley, London Scottish Bank and a string of building societies, including the Dunfermline one, just around the corner from Brown's sublet constituency office.

  • Comment number 54.

    Congratulations Nick - you managed to find a crack to slip a cigarette paper in between. This is nothing compared to the shambles of Labour's tax policy (10p rate, VAT cut, inheritance tax). Try asking some Labour ministers how they are going to deal with the loss of tax revenues and the huge increases in debt they have imposed on us.

  • Comment number 55.


    have to say that no matter how the format for blogs is changed, it is no good unless the moderators keep up to speed. Time last update 11:05.

  • Comment number 56.

    My my, Nick loves to examine the Tories in detail, doesn't he? Rumours, conjecture, and asking questions of them that he knows they can't give firm answers to whilst the gravity of the economic situation remains unknown.
    Meanwhile, the government and their assorted failures and scandals remain uninvestigated and barely mentioned. I'm amazed McNulty even got a P.S. but I'm grateful for small mercies. Although personally I think McNulty should have been sacked after he lied to the House as police minister and was forced to backtrack by Panorama.
    But I guess these days lying to the House, fiddling your expenses, committing fraud, and gross incompetence are all no longer resignable offenses. In fact, they're usually a pre-cursor to a peerage...

  • Comment number 57.

    There are a few MP's on both sides of the House who live in the suburbs and further, and yet claim nothing for travel and accommodation. The distance from an MP's stated residence and the HoC should be banded properly and costed accordingly. It's a free-for-all at the moment.

    If these MP's can do it, why can't McNulty?

  • Comment number 58.

    Storm in a tea cup....... Tories don't get dragged into the SPIN dryer

    Everything is an aspiration at the moment as no one knows how much Labour are prepared to throw at the economy..... in these times we need fluid thinking

    It happened in the late 70's and the country trusted the Conservatives -
    Tell 'em it's going to be tough and trust the electorate to have enough nouse to understand what's going on....

    I'm a net saver and I could hide my head in the sand and pretend I haven't been involved in the past 10yrs of debt fuelled boom.... but I have, albeit indirectly. My businesses have been successful, possibly/probably as a result of borrowing at individual or business level - can I now opt out of contributing to redress the situation.... NO!

    If inheritance tax thresholds need to stay as is, then so be it. If taxes have to rise... the so be it

    What I want is this mess sorting ASAP, we ALL enjoyed the boom - so we take the hit for the bust........ I don't like the idea of the state taking more in tax on my death, but I also don't like the thought that I'm leaving all this debt for my kids to repay!!!!!

  • Comment number 59.

    Oh I don't know. It did its job brilliantly. Which was to stop Gordon Brown calling an election in October 2007. The only interesting question is - did Ken shoot from the hip on this one, or was the change of line all pre-agreed with Cameron?

  • Comment number 60.

    Another tired and biased blog entry by Robinson.

    Why is there no true investigative journalism, trying to uncover some more MPs of all sides who are cheating the taxpayer out of money to feather their nests?

    We all know the are too close to those you should be holding to account, Nick, and your journalism is beginning to look ridiculous as a result.

    Do the right thing - for the people of this country, and your reputation as a journalist - and start holding the GOVERNMENT to account.

  • Comment number 61.

    Mr.Robinson, will you (not the commentators) please inform me where and when Senior members of the Tory Party, pledged to cut tax for the wealthy and increase the tax burden for the poor?

    This is all based on a dubious premise that the next Tory Government will raise taxes and cut spending. I think that there is a LIKELIHOOD that these will take place, but no specific areas have been defined.

    I, and possibly many others can think of areas to cut waste, e.g. Quangos, I.D.Cards, I.T. projects, N.H.S. management tiers, etc. These are personal views, not Conservative Party propositions. As has been said by manner commentators in and out of the Party,no-one in opposition can make the slightest guess at the state of national finances from outside Government.

  • Comment number 62.

    In the recent Wheeler case - Labour refusing to honour a manifesto committment to have a referendum on the EU Treaty - a judge told us that manifesto 'promises' were merely 'aspirations'.

    Therefore I do not see why we, the English electorate, should waste a single minute reading these political party mainfestos.

    At best, these documents are going to provide a very vague view of the future, hedged with all sorts of caveats.

    There are far better ways to spend your precious time unless you are a 'political professional', of course.

  • Comment number 63.

    So I switched on the news last night to learn that the Tory tax plans were in disarray.

    This is very small beer given that in the same bulletin I was advised that the Indian Premier League finds that it is unable to perform its games in its own country for security fears. That a prosperous, civilised and friendly country which I greatly admire finds itself in such a pass concerns me far more than some view on inheritance tax at an election which has not even been called yet.

    Now a similar nonsense appears here. So please tell me, Nick, who are the BBC serving? Is it the public or some other secular interest? We need to know as it might affect who we vote for at this distant election which seems so very important to you all.

  • Comment number 64.

    Regarding Tony McNulty, I think we can all predict what is going to happen. A committee of other MPs will hold an enquiry, say that no rules have been violated and he will come on TV telling the world that he has been exonerated because this is what always happens.

    As regards the Tory tax plans they are in complete disarray but so is the economy. Let's not forget this government's track record when it comes to economic consistency:

    10p tax rate
    Borrowing Rules
    Printing Money
    Nationalising Northern Rock

    I would guess all the parties will have different manifestos to those they may have been advocating 18 months ago. The difference will be that the Tories can only react to the situation they are left in, labour can shape the situation (and look where that's got us).

  • Comment number 65.

    23. briangare

    Well we all know that Harmans hypocrisy knows no bounds dont we.

    Harriet Harman is sitting on a taxpayer funded pension pot of £1.5million. And her husband has amassed over another "public sector" million.

    That should pay a pension of about £100k a year.

    Not bad for pensioners Eh?

    Mean while back in the real NuLabour land a real pensioner couple live on £6,791.20 per annum.

  • Comment number 66.


    Please remember that politics isn't a game of trying to catch out interviewees on semantics.

    I saw the Ken Clarke interview and he stated that the IHT threashold was not a priority for an incoming Tory government. Exactly the same line as Hauge and Osbourne. The difference is that H& O highlighted that as it would be in the manifesto it would remain a commitment.

    You know all too well that events can overtake maifesto pledges and that any incoming responsible government would react to the actual economic conditions rather than blindly sticking to the manifesto.

    As has been stated above, the McNulty story strikes much more of a chord with voters of all parties but you only consider this worthy of a footnote.

  • Comment number 67.

    I see that the daily politics blog has more political news than this one Nick.

    The News of the World revelations of Tory ministers used to bring about a quick resignation. Under NuLabour, like Prescott will he survive...or will we see pictures of Parkinson and Mellor on our screens?

    ...and what about those dead soldiers returning home today? Upstaged by Jade and without comment from Brown or Cameron?

  • Comment number 68.

    Dear Nick
    I am saddened to have to endorse the repeated comments about the bias implicit in your blog (as a whole - although amply exemplified by this entry). The McNulty story is positively outrageous and warrants three lines - this is likely to be the Westminster equivalent of the AIG bonus story in the US. You can have no idea how this playing "out here" - everyone I have spoken to (and part of my "name" may give you a hint as to where I am based - watch out for a Tory win in Harrow East) is incredibly unimpressed with this issue. This is what they are talking about and are angry about, not the nuance of wording chosen by a SHADOW minister. Incidentally, when were you planning to blog on:
    1. H Harman's leadership bid
    2. The current state of the public finances
    3. The Guardian interview with Hazel Blears in which she is critical of world-saver GB
    4. Labour MPs preparing their cv's and future job prospects in anticipation of a wipeout in 2010
    These are the real stories in the political world as they are from within the governing party, the group who have a direct influence over you and me right now - and yet they figure not in your blog, Nick. Why?

  • Comment number 69.

    1. An end to boom and bust.
    2. British jobs for British workers.
    3. We are the best placed to deal with the recession.
    4. Iraq can deploy weapons of mass destruction in (I forget...)
    5. The British people don't want an election.

    Just a few of the words this government has been forced to eat.

    I think on balance, changing a policy because the circumstances of the economy have changed (outside of Tory control) would not be such a big one. Strange that it seems to be attracting so much attention from the beeb. More than strange, positively bizzarre.

    McNulty should be in more than hot water. Rest assured, if I were to abuse the expenses policy in my job, I would not only be unemployed, but in all probability facing presecution as well.

  • Comment number 70.

    Anything the Tories (or any opposition party) say about taxes is "aspirational", simply because it's Labour Ministers actually in office until the next election.

    Ken C didn't say the Tories would ditch changes to Inheritance Tax. But goodness knows what state the economy will be in, come 2010.

    Bit of a non-story, I'd have thought.

    What about he Government apparently wanting to take funds from Local Government Pension funds and use it to inject into so-called PFI projects, which are grinding to a halt because the contractors can't get their hands on money?

    (I wouldn't let any of this lot close to a Pension Fund.)

    I'd have thought that was more worthy of comment.

    After all, Brown and Darling (and Mandelson) keep saying they are making it easier for commercial businesses to access money. You'd think that, at the least, they'd make sure that people with Government contracts can get their hands on it?

  • Comment number 71.

    Why oh why is the latest Labour sleaze a 3 line addendum to a "Tories split over taxes" article?

    There may well be discussions, heck even concerns, about the affordability of the tax pledge, but the sleaze deserves an article of its own.

    I don't care if McNulty was acting within the rules, he was not acting with good ethics, and he blooming well knows it - so does everyone else, including the famour "Court of Public Opinion".

    And why isn't Nigel Griffiths' intimate affair inside the Palace of Westminster being widely reported on the BBC. It's not been on the TV news or the radio, and is conveniently lower down the pecking order on the BBC website. I was gobsmacked to hear about this today in the newspapers, not just because of the utter disgrace of the event, but because the BBC seem to think it not worthy of news.

    Anyone would think that it's only Tory Sleaze that matters.

  • Comment number 72.

    37. Dorset_wurzel

    Almost had an accident reading that one.

    I look forward to Nick's next blog on a fallout between Cameron, Osbourne and Clarke over whether it's the milk first or the tea.
    With a 3 line PS of Brown's announcement that he has sold the UK to China at the knockdown price of 500,000 Yuan.

  • Comment number 73.

    Sorry, but if you can't hold the government to account for saying they had put an end to boom and bust, and you can't hold them to account for saying that we would be out of recession by the end of September this year, nor can you hold them to account for fiddling their expenses (sackable offence, in the private sector), or for creating a public sector populated by middle managers and acheiving very little despite costing twice as much as it did when they came to power etc etc etc...

    ...Then, you can't really compain if the conservatives are having to look again at whether or not increasing the inheritance tax band is a priority.

    For the record - it was important when it appeared that the average cost of a family home in the UK would soon be more than the threshold, and it is less important now that values are falling rapidly.

  • Comment number 74.

    McNutter another ZaNulabour non-politician caught with his fingers in the proverbial till. (allegedly)

    Nick isn't it about time for a Parliamentary History lesson.

    Most of the current rule for Parliament were designed for the 1700's
    Take the holidays that are taken. The reason they are so long was to give the Honourable (and I use that word advisedly)members who lived in the furthest reaches of the country time to get to their constituencies and back plus have time off. Also the landowners and Gentlemen farmers needed to see to their farms. No planes, trains and automobiles in those days servicing the whole of the country.

    I am unsure when allowances for second homes came in to force but I would of though it would of been for much the same reason. One could not return to one's main home so a second home would of been necessary to live closer to Parliament. I would of thought that second home allowances would of come into effect towards the end of the nineteenth century when the Landed Gentry were in decline as MP's.

    With there being faster travel time these days do you not think it time these over generous holidays and allowances were brought into the 21st Century. There is absolutly no need these days for MP's to have more than the adverage holiday that evvery body else does. To be generouse 6 weeks annual leave a year plus Bank Holidays.

    They should only need second homes if they are more than 1 1/2 hrs train or plane ride from London. Othere commuters on less money have to do it and theye don'e get free travel permits befors that suggestion is thrown in the ring.

  • Comment number 75.

    Steven Timms on The Daily Politics Show might just as well have not been there the quality of the answers he gave.

  • Comment number 76.


    I have up until now thought that comments about you being employed by the Labour hierachy as being unfair.I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt....but.... This, after so many days of nothing and allowing the Trident debate to descend into a debate on Scottish indepdendance is the end. I am disgusted by this. I suggest you start of new thread asap that balances this up. This is blatant spin.For goodness sake be fair.

  • Comment number 77.

    #58 - "we ALL enjoyed the boom"... not true, plenty of people, presumably much younger than yourself, could not possibly get on the 'property ladder' and in many cases found it hard to even rent and afford the sky-high council, gas and electricity bills to go on top of increasing food prices, petrol prices etc - their alternative was to keep living with their parents.

    This wasn't me by the way, I moved out of my parents house.

  • Comment number 78.

    My starting point with extractive taxes, such as Income Tax and so-called National Insurance, is that the larger the amount extracted, the more it diminishes freedom-of-choice for individuals and their families.

    As a relatively free Englishman, I am therefore instinctively opposed to these extractive taxes.

    A certain amount of tax must always be extracted from individuals, families and businesses to provide the basic infrastructure, cohesion and security of our society.

    But it must always be carefully delineated and kept to a clearly auditable sum because, generally speaking, Government is shockingly wasteful of taxpayers funds.

    This is the ideal Governmental fiscal model I hold in my head, but the actuality sadly falls far short of that.

    Hence I suspect, the immense frustration of English taxpayers, who instinctively sense that they are being very poorly served in terms of value for taxpayers pound.

    Nobody wants to be 'ripped-off', especially by those 'public servants' e.g. MP's, who are supposed to look after our best interests.

  • Comment number 79.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 80.


    You are seriously losing your credibility as a Journalist (let alone a Commentator), and your connection with the mood and reality of the British public here.

    When people resort to satire and contempt over your post, rather than pure logic and comment, you are surely failing to serve the public.

    The public is clearly more concerned by the sheer abuse and direspect we are continuously shown by Politicians wasting our money, abusing their positions, and throwing away our futures. The McNulty expense abuse situation is surely demonstrative of this, and an Open Goal for anyone, and is absolutely symptomatic of a disconnected government who just doesn't think these things matter or will be noticed.

    It is up to you to notice them! Nick, surely you are better than this. Prove it in your next posts. Or even respond.

    In France people would be on the streets over this level of apparent corruption.

  • Comment number 81.

    How come I entered a comment at 11.15am and its still waiting to get moderation? is it because I asked to see Nic's job description and confirm that he is a politcal reporter or a Labour reporter???? you read his blogs and you do wonder???????????

  • Comment number 82.

    As I recall wasn't the main point of the inheritance tax debate due to so many ordinary households finding themselves liable to the tax due to the massive increases in property prices.

    Something this government is successfully tackling as we speak.

    Praise where praise is due.

  • Comment number 83.

    So what? There won't be many left with enough to leave behind let alone worrying about death duties.

    Anyway what about the big labour promise to have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

    Much more important breach of trust to the people than some promise made during what were seen then as the good times.

    Being part of the EU at the moment is trying to function with one hand tied behind our backs.

    It takes months to reach any sort of agreement on anything while the world economies are just going from bad to worse.

    What party really wants to win the next election anyway. If they are not popular now pity help them when they have to start cleaning up the mess in twelve months time.

    If that will be possible by then.

  • Comment number 84.

    I sometime wonder whether the Nick blog is dictated by the spinners in the Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Department a part of the civil service that has become known as the Labour party press machine.

    Yesterday's Sunday Times had a wonderful article about the cost to the taxpayers of the public relations set up in the department since Mandelson was brought back ostensibly to run a government department. Labour appear to be using taxpayers money for party political publicity.

  • Comment number 85.

    "39. At 11:30am on 23 Mar 2009, oldrightie wrote:

    Perils of political promises.

    Would that include "No more boom and bust"?"

    What about "education, education education"? Or "Ethical foreign policy"? Or "making the NHS the envy of Europe" (whilst target culture directly kills hundreds if not thousands of patients?) or "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime"? Or making immigration efficient and fair? or the promise to hold a referendum on the EU treaty? or the promise to listen, learn and act on public concerns?

    In every policy area labour have failed, failed and failed again. If it was down to cuts and underspending, I could understand it. But when labour spends 3 times more than the tories did on the NHS and it results in people being left to rot in their own faeces in a hospital corridor (because they met the cubicle waiting time limit target) then the executives at the Hospital, the leaders of the NHS Trust and the government minister's responsible MUST face trial for criminal negligence. What happened instead? The executives received a pay rise!!!

    Labour continue to reward failure, lethal failure at that!

    Election now please, criminal trial for Blair, Brown et al to follow shortly thereafter please too.

  • Comment number 86.

    Work minister Mr McNulty has claimed £60,000 since 2002 for the house in his Harrow constituency - 11 miles from the Commons - where his parents live. He says he did not break any rules but the case has added to pressure for a wide-ranging probe into MPs' expenses.

    Just another snout in the trough ?

  • Comment number 87.

    "The News of the World revelations of Tory ministers used to bring about a quick resignation. Under NuLabour, like Prescott will he survive...or will we see pictures of Parkinson and Mellor on our screens?"

    Not bloody likely. That would only remind viewers that when an MP was discovered to have been cheating, he would resign. Today, NHS policies that result in the avoidable and unnecessary deaths of thousands and outright corruption are not even resignation issues anymore. Cheating is par for the course. I think the only shocking thing about this cheating MP is was that it was a hetero-sexual affair. If it had been a homosexual one, it would not have even made newsprint!

  • Comment number 88.

    The increased anti bias towards the Tories by the BBC is becoming alarming to say the least.

    Any fool can understand that policies will have to be reviewed in light of Flash leaving the cupboard bear.

    Any fool can also see that claiming expenses for one property whilst living a stones through from your existing property is down right theft

    BUT what gets the lead story ?

  • Comment number 89.

    All these suddenly trendy words! Toxic is making a very robust appearance, taking the place of the once constantly used robust and transparent. So, shall we say that Tont McNulty is robustly just one of Nu Labour's toxic assets, whereas Ken Clarke is transparently toxic, either as asset or robust great beast.

  • Comment number 90.

    8. jimbrant

    Are you really so naive, or were your born yesterday? Basically honest politicians - what an oxymoron!

  • Comment number 91.

    Sorry, Nick,

    It's all a question of perspective. In your privileged position I'd have thought you could be writing a million words on the government's dilemma over the economy, the problems it presents for Labour MPs and supporters, and the Unions. Instead you wrote several hundred words on what you knew would be the case - after all, you wrote about the likelihood - that Ken's cannon would fire at unexpected moments.

    Just don't think you're hungry enough these days to come up with the goods. Yet another reason to switch off from following the political debate.

  • Comment number 92.

    kcband8: "Why did the sad news of Jade Goody's death take up 30minutes on News 24?" --------------------------------------

    I believe that is the labour philosophy of it being a "good day to bury bad news"

    This is a fact, for why did it take months for a junior staffer to be forced into an apology and then eventual resignation over stating that 9/11 was a good day to bury bad news if that was not labour philosophy???

    If the labour party did NOT approve of that way of thinking, she would have been fired on the spot!

    Labour staffers constantly monitor the media to release bad news whenever they know that the news media will concentrate on other news.

    In fact, with the BBC, labour can rely on direct co-operation IN and collusion in burying labour bad news.

    A P.S. and three lines about the crooked McNulty at the end of a none-story article is a prime example of such collusion. I rest my case.

  • Comment number 93.

    I just borrowed David Tenants Police box and skipped back to 1997.

    To my surprise I found that Tory sleaze was the main story with a little 3 liner tacked on at the bottom about a minor disagreement between Brown and Blair over a tax and spend policy.

    So what do we surmise from this?
    1) The Beeb haven't changed and the Tories are always the number one Story
    2) The Beeb have changed and sleaze is now a minor story
    3) The Beeb haven't changed and they must bash the Tories at all costs

    Institutionalised sameism any one?

  • Comment number 94.

    Ken was right, in the current circumstances it is right to re-evaluate a massively expensive tax reduction (3 billion lost) which would benefit (on latest figures) only the 3% of the most wealthy in the country. David and George need to continue their get real journey and stop pandering to their own blue rinse brigade.
    When everyone is going to be facing tax large increases (or so Call me dave would have me believe) when they are alive - giving money away to dead people is just bananas.

    It was a great spin trick to promote it when it only applied to a tiny proprtion of people but was something many aspired to - getting their mitts on their parents estates free of charge, something few will have put anything into, so it is unearned income and should be taxed as such. Don't forget principle residences are free to a surviving spouse who would be the only dependent where this has a direct significant effect on and is why that exemption exists.

    The nations finances are knackered and there are a good deal better things to do with 3 billion pounds, such a minimising the tax increases on the vast majority of people which are inevitable.

    It's politics but Dave and George need to listen to Ken, if they revert to type and just focus on a small group of over priviledged rich people and play the aspirations trick (97% of us will never have any benefit from this 3 billion annual amount - we would like to but be real, in few instances will this happen, the odd patricide or accident but most value should be used up caring for the people who earned it - the parents).

    Dave moved the clock back with this old fashioned tory feed the rich gimmic and when given a golden opportunity to get out of it he reinforces it.
    The might vote for Dave clock has been switched off for the time being, and it was so close to midnight.

  • Comment number 95.


    "Ken Clarke was, as ever, telling it like it is."

    Well I'm glad someone is. Perhaps, when Ken retires from front-line politics he could become the next chief political correspondent for the BBC; because the current occupent certainly is not - telling it like it is.

    After all Nick - are you seriously suggesting that it is only the Tory party who are having to revise their economic plans because of the recession?

  • Comment number 96.

    Hi Nick

    I think that this is a Westminster Village arguement whilst the rest of the country has more important issues.

    I for one am pleased that Ken Clarke has some influence on the Tories. Even opponents will admit he was a decent chancellor and so I hope will bring those skills to bear. Because of the current mess the Tories may have to delay policies they would like.This is hardly a shock....

    The real issue is Tony McNulty and his shameful expense claiming. I am afraid that the real world is concerned about this as whatever you think of Cameron and Clarke they are not in power and McNulty is and to be polite to him lets say he appears to have a weak moral compass as well as a weak actual one as I gather it is 35 minutes on the Tube....

  • Comment number 97.

    So they made a promis nearly a year and a half ago, when G Brown was telling everyone that all was well and the economy waqs hunky doory!

    Now we are so far down the pit hole that it would be madness for that promis to be as high a piroity, as long as its still a target most voters would be happy.

    Also as house prices collapes its not needed as much, but what is needed is a stable economy which could well take years to get after the mess G.Brown will leave it in in 2010

  • Comment number 98.

    Is it because yet another Nu Labour character (McNulty) has been found with his snout in the trough, that so many comments have been removed? Just count them!

  • Comment number 99.

    Are you sure you write these blogs Mr Robinson ? Sometimes the subject matter appears to have been written by the Labour spin machine. Why the obsession with Tory policies when they , at the moment are irrelevant ? Lets have some critique on the allegation that a minister has been conning cash from the taxpayer or that the Prime Minister and the chancellor are out of their depth in the financial department and the country is sliding down the pan at an increasing rate while these gentlemen are busy trying to salvage a few votes at the next election .What about the fact that this country is worst placed of the industrialised nations to survive the recession, and our glorious leader thinks we're best placed.? C'mon Nick let's have some even handed comment, Brown is on his way out, he can't hurt you now.

  • Comment number 100.

    Sorry, but McNulty is about as edifying as a bowl of vomit! The Conservatives must be chuckling with glee in Harrow, although actually the Tories are a miserable bunch who can't see the chance in front of their noses. They just seem to lack the savvy to take it!


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