The Mail on Sunday
Party spirits have never been higher
put it to me: ‘It has completely game-changed the argument about who is going to wreck the recovery.’
Tory backbenchers are far more upbeat following the announcement. One said: ‘This is one of the very few things that translates. Unlike the deficit, people understand it.’
The Tories are particularly pleased that they managed to get their National Insurance policy on to the front page four days out of five this week. This was thanks both to skill on their part and an error by Labour. The letter from business leaders in support of the Tory position, which was something George Osborne’s team had been working on for a while, guaranteed the Tories a second hit. But Lord Mandelson’s attack on the signatories made the letter a much bigger story.
This mistake caused delight in Conservative circles. One campaign veteran’s view was that the ‘end of the myth of the invincible Mandelson is the best thing to have come out of this whole episode’.
The NHS is the country’s biggest employer, so a lower rate of National Insurance saves it a considerable amount of money – several hundred million. The Tories plan to use this to pay for cancer drugs that the NHS cannot currently afford to give to everyone. This policy is a triumph for Steve Hilton, who has been pushing for ways to underline the Tories’ commitment to the NHS.
Gordon Brown will call the Election on Tuesday and the Tories are finally ready. One CCHQ source tells me that, if Brown had gone earlier ‘it would all have been a bit of a mad scramble’. But now, ‘the grid [the document which sets out what the Tories will campaign on each day] is pretty much done’.
The Tories have also finalised plans for Samantha Cameron’s role in the Election. She will campaign two days a week: one day will be spent on a solo visit to a social action project and the other travelling with her husband.
Not only have the Tories had a good week, but Alistair Darling’s announcement in the Chancellors’ debate that he cannot commit to freezing VAT caused despair in Labour circles. They thought that accusing the Tories of raising VAT to pay for their inheritance tax cut would be a potent electoral dividing line; a tax rise for the many to pay for a tax cut for the few. But Darling’s words have put that weapon beyond use.
At the beginning of this week, George Osborne was the man under pressure. A weak performance from him in the Chancellors’ debate could have sent the Tory campaign down the plughole. But, by the end of it, Osborne was being hailed by colleagues as ‘the man who puts the petrol in the campaign’s engine’.
Celebrations were in order, but it is the age of austerity. So, Osborne rounded off the week by lunching with his team at Pizza Express.