Regardless of widespread scepticism that his proposed energy and wage policies could work in practice, it is Ed Miliband who continues to set the political agenda. Since his conference speech, the Labour leader’s focus on the cost of living has spread more widely than a narrow focus on the energy sector. Yesterday Miliband majored heavily on restoring the link between living standards and growth, and spoke about a new proposal to offer tax breaks to companies that offer the living wage.
At Prime Minister’s Questions today he went all-in with six questions to David Cameron on the NHS – and specifically focused on the “crisis” in Accident and Emergency care. This followed warnings from the leader of Britain’s A&E doctors, Cliff Mann, who said that “this winter will probably be worse than last winter, which was the worst we have ever had”.
All are interlinked. Miliband is talking about high energy bills just as the NHS gears up for winter, a time when – despite Government policies like the Winter Fuel Allowance – many elderly people struggle to heat their homes. While Cameron and Osborne highlight improving GDP growth, Miliband is focusing on wages that are still rising more slowly than inflation. It has had a dramatic effect on his personal poll ratings, which fell from -19% in November 2012 to -46% in September 2013, but have subsequently bounced back to -28% in the past six weeks.
However, there are concerns over the take-up that his living wage scheme would have, as employers would get a 12-month discount in return for permanently higher wage costs, and there remain serious questions over the practicality of his energy price freeze, but it’s undeniable that the Government is on the back foot.
Cameron was at pains today to remind voters and MPs that the Government had ring-fenced NHS spending, and that the Labour-run NHS in Wales is struggling; but this winter is shaping up to be a real test of Cameron’s efforts to “rebrand” the Conservatives as a party that you can trust with the health service. The Prime Minister will be hoping to build on his party’s poll lead when it comes to economic trust, which has grown over the past year to 10%, and increase it further when the Chancellor delivers his Autumn Statement on December 4th.
On the fast track – Government announces new visa schemes
Home Secretary Theresa May has announced a series of new visa schemes designed to make it easier for business travellers to visit the UK. The move comes in the wake of the Government’s decision to drop a proposed £3,000 visa bond scheme pilot, which would have started this month, following opposition from the Liberal Democrats.
The new visa schemes will see a ‘Great club’ set up for initially around 100 businesspeople, as well as an extension of the Government’s £100 priority visa scheme from 67 countries to over 90. The Government is also expanding its same-day visa service, which is currently available in India and will soon to be available in China, to several other countries by the end of 2014.