How do the Tories know the future?
12:00 19 February 2013
IT’S difficult to know whether the Conservative group running Suffolk County Council have a direct line to Eric Pickles, have a superb crystal ball, or simply have a hide as thick as a rhino!
When I was first told that they were planning to make a pledge to freeze council tax for the next four years if they are re-elected in May, I thought it was a very bold promise.
Now I reckon they’re being very courageous – as in the Sir Humphrey Appleby meaning of the word!
How on earth does council leader Mark Bee and his cabinet know what the situation is going to be in four years’ time?
How do they know who will be Secretary of State for Local Government? What if there’s a new government after the next election with very different priorities for local government?
What if whoever is in power decides that national government grants to local councils should be abolished and authorities should raise more from council tax? I don’t think it’s likely but it could happen and it would leave the county council in a massive hole.
Mr Bee is one of the most impressive local politicians I’ve ever come across and he has very good political antennae.
Now these antennae have gone very wonky! The pledge looks like an election bribe – and it could well turn out to be an election promise that is impossible to fulfil.
Had he said: “We want to freeze count tax bills for the next four years,” that would have been fine.
Even better would have been to say: “Our first priority is to freeze council tax bills for the next four years.”
If the unexpected were to happen and his administration is unable to achieve what he wants then at least he’d have a get-out clause.
Now if things go belly-up, he will simply be left with egg on his face as another politician who’s made a rash promise he cannot keep.
And that could be bad news for services – there may be a temptation to cut them first if income falls in a desperate attempt to maintain the council tax pledge.
My bones still tell me that in Suffolk the Tories have enough support to hang on to power at Endeavour House and that Mr Bee will once again be top dog.
But the opposition – almost certainly led by Labour – will be watching this pledge like a hawk over the next four years.
They will seize on any sign that the Tories are struggling to fulfil their promise, and will be looking to exploit any difficulties they have.
And if the Tories do find that this extravagant promise lands them in trouble between now and 2017, then they really will have no one else to blame – no one forced them to make such a difficult pledge that they’ll struggle to live up to!