Fonte/Source, The Guardian, Even before the final results of the general election are announced, David Cameron has made clear his first priorities of a majority Conservative government: an effort to reinforce the union, immediate work to draft the EU in/out referendum bill and getting the “rollercoaster” £30bn cuts programme under way to tackle the deficit.
The pledge to introduce a Scotland bill in the Queen’s speech on 27 May does not appear in Cameron’s key Sunday Telegraph article outlining his priorities for the next 100 days but it does appear in the Conservative manifesto.
That Scotland bill will “honour in full our commitments to Scotland to devolve extensive new powers” including giving the Scottish parliament the right to set its own levels of income tax.
But that will be coupled with new legislation giving English MPs a veto over matters that only affect England, including the introduction of an England-only income tax by next March’s budget in 2016, on which the new SNP MPs will be barred from voting.
Giving English MPs a veto could also blunt the SNP’s intention to use their new-found clout to oppose the Tories plans for further austerity and make clear that if they do not want to make further cuts, especially welfare cuts in Scotland, then they will have to pay for them.
In his 100-days pledge Cameron promised to walk back into Downing Street on Friday, “get back to my desk and immediately start driving through a plan of action”. He said Whitehall would be called to attention and on “day one” bills will start being drafted.
Referendum on Europe
High on the list, he said: “We will draft a European referendum bill, start the process of renegotiating in Europe on changes to welfare that will reduce immigration, and take the first steps to introduce a seven-day NHS”.
Cameron has promised that the referendum on Britain’s membership will take place by 2017 with the vote taking place after an attempt has been made to renegotiate the terms, including restricting access of EU migrants to welfare benefits for their first four years, and on elements of free movement.
Cameron will want to get on with the legislation to avoid the kind of endless internal party warfare over Europe suffered by John Major at the hands of the Eurosceptic “bastards”. “We will legislate in the first session of the next parliament for an in/out referendum to be held on Britain’s membership of the EU before the end of 2017,” says the manifesto on this crucial point.
A majority will also help him get the referendum bill through a likely hostile House of Lords, which under the Salisbury convention cannot reject a manifesto commitment. The 2017 date had been fixed in anticipation that as a minority government or coalition he might have to use the Parliament Act and take two terms to get it through the upper house.
All eyes will also be on a budget and spending review, which will set the spending limits of government departments over the next four years to reduce the deficit. Keeping his promise to maintain health spending will mean deeper cuts in other unprotected departments, including £12bn in so far unspecified welfare cuts.
The Office of Budget Responsibility has described the profile of the £30bn planned cuts in this five-year parliament as a public spending “rollercoaster ride’. The OBR has said that the Conservative plans imply cuts of more than 5% implied in 2016-17 and in 2017-18 – twice the size of any year’s cuts over the last five years – to be followed by a pre-election increase in spending in 2019/20. Leaked DWP papers showed options included scrapping several benefits and taxing disability benefits.
The other bills Cameron promised in the Queen’s speech later this month include:
• Reducing the annual benefits cap by £3,000 to £23,000 and removing housing benefit from under-21s on jobseeker’s allowance.
• Taking out of income tax anyone working 30 hours a week on minimum wage by linking the personal allowance to the national minimum wage.
• New education bill to “force coasting schools to accept new leadership”.
• A housing bill to extend the right to buy to 1.3 million housing association tenants.
• A bill to double free childcare for working parents of three- and four-year-olds.
Talks with the Democratic Unionists to secure a working Commons majority are not only likely to include proposals for increased infrastructure spending in Northern Ireland. But watch out also for a specific pledge to devolve corporation tax powers to Belfast that is in the Tory manifesto. The DUP wants to match the kind of rock-bottom rates offered by Dublin that has attracted international names such as Apple.