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The great pig scandal: what have we missed?

23rd September 2015

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Since Monday the British media has obsessed over allegations of “drug taking and debauchery”, but has this provided a welcome policy veil for the Conservatives? 

On Sunday evening the Daily Mail began serialising Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott’s unofficial biography of David Cameron. The book, based on numerous interviews with friends and political adversaries, including “Downing Street insiders”, has been a revelation.

George Osbourne 

Cameron’s spokeswoman chose not to “dignify” the biography with a response. In the absence of an instant denial however, passing comments that could have been quickly dismissed have opened a Pandora’s Box of criticism on the Prime Minister. 

The story has featured in every national newspaper and magazine across the country even making appearances globally, running in the New York Times. There have been countless articles collating and rating the best Twitter reactions, of which there were over 450,000 in two days, according to analytics engine Topsy

Yet three days on and the British public are still no closer to discovering the truth or falsity of the widely unexpected (or completely understandable, dependent on your knowledge of public education and Oxbridge) revelations. 

But do we even need to know? Arguably not.

Moreover, the truth of the matter doesn’t really have any bearing on the smokescreen it has and will continue to create whilst the Conservatives implement further ideologically motivated austerity. The anti-Jeremy Corbyn rhetoric since the election of the new Labour leader is testament to this. 

So, blinded by “pig-gate”, what important developments have been clouded since Sunday? 

On the day of the Daily Mail ‘annoinkment’, there was wide speculation that George Osborne is readying to scrap universal free school meals primary school children. The flagship policy of former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg provides free school meals for all five to seven year olds across the UK. 

The hit taken by children and parents would likely be exacerbated by the government scrapping of tax credits, which was conveniently announced under the media storm generated by Corbyn not singing the national anthem

Among the 8.4 million working age households eligible for benefits or tax credits, the average loss from these cuts is around £750 per year, the Institute for Fiscal Studies reports. The higher minimum wage introduced would only cover about a quarter of the cash cut from in-work tax credits. 

On Monday The Guardian ran the long-overdue report that a disabled man killed himself as a direct result of being found fit to work by the government’s disability assessors. 

The coroner ruled that Michael O’Sullivan, who was moved from employment support on to jobseeker’s allowance despite providing reports from three doctors that he was unable to work, killed himself at his home on 24th September 2013. 

The ruling was the first time that the work capability assessment process has been blamed directly for a death. 

The news on Monday also featured an announcement from Osborne that the UK will guarantee a £2 billion deal allowing China to invest in the Hinkley Point nuclear power station. This has been met with serious scepticism by analysts. 

Osborne has chosen to double the UK’s political and economic bet on China at a time when their economy is looking at its most vulnerable for thirty years. Furthermore, if the deal is such a good investment, why has the private sector chosen not to underwrite it? 

Not only does the decision to support an unproven nuclear developer raise serious questions, but the willingness of the government to encourage foreign investment in the British energy market seems to patently oppose their ideologically driven resistance to migrant labour. 

It is only a matter of time until Cameron is forced to face the media, but if no evidence is presented then this could play into the government’s hands: Ashcroft will become not only a bitter old man, but he will also lose any remaining credibility. 

When the time is right I expect Cameron to respond in his usual strong style of accepting the humour of these allegations, whilst also adamantly dismissing them.

His delayed response will move with the waning media interest, ridicule Ashcroft, but more importantly have enabled him to bury some rather damaging policies.

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