When our own Prime Minster is unaware of the effect his government’s policies are having on society, it is time to admit we are not in safe hands

 

September feels like a long time ago, doesn’t it? Especially since many young people went back to school then. With Christmas now only a few weeks away, it doesn’t feel like that long ago.

Back in September, there was an exchange of letters that went unnoticed until last week (w/c 9th November 2015), between Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council and David Cameron, Member of Parliament for Witney, a constituency in Oxfordshire.

The letters went unnoticed until the 11th of November 2015 when the Oxford Mail newspaper was able to obtain leaked copies of the letters exchanged, and the national press was notably slow to pick up on the story.

The exchange began with David Cameron writing, in his authority as an MP mind you, to Cllr Hudspeth about the council’s cuts to services.

In the letter, Cameron says:

‘I was disappointed at the long list of suggestions floated in the briefing note to make significant cuts to frontline services — from elderly day centres, to libraries, to museums.

This is in addition to the unwelcome and counter-productive proposals to close children’s centres across the county.

I would have hoped that Oxfordshire would instead be following the best practice of Conservative councils from across the country in making back-office savings and protecting the frontline’.

In response, Cllr Hudspeth points out that David Cameron’s letter raises, ‘a number of serious issues’.

Rightly so too.

In response to the letter being published (you can read David Cameron’s letter here and Cllr Hudspeth’s response here), Cllr Webber, the Lib Dem leader in Oxfordshire said: ‘It is staggering that the Prime Minister knows so little of the impact of his government’s cuts in his own backyard’.

Oxfordshire’s Labour leader Liz Brighouse said: ‘This letter is high-handed and arrogant and shows clearly that David Cameron does not understand Oxfordshire’s finances’.

Even Cllr Hudspeth accused David Cameron of making ‘inaccurate’ comments in the letter, despite Cllr Hudspeth being a fellow Conservative. Although, when the Oxford Mail approached Cllr Hudspeth about the letter he said, ‘I don’t want to comment on leaked private correspondence that wasn’t intended for publication’.

These letters have led to Labour demanding a Cabinet probe, with one letter reportedly saying: ‘In that context, I would be happy to initiate a further dialogue with individuals in the Number 10 Policy Unit and yourself. Please contact Sheridan Westlake (address) if you wish to take this up’.

The Ministerial Code states that: ‘Ministers are provided with facilities at government expense to enable them to carry out their official duties. These facilities should not generally be used for party or constituency activities’.

So whilst we wait for that ruling from Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, should we now be questioning whether David Cameron has selective hearing?

In his own backyard, just as Cllr Webber suggests, David Cameron is unaware of his own county’s finances as a direct impact of cuts from his government.

These cuts are affecting us all, despite many agencies warning him that further cuts will be detrimental to society. Plus, who remembers that letter to the Observer signed by Tory council leaders saying that further cuts to local government would mean, ‘Public services will suffer terribly if the chancellor insists on more savings’?

Believe it or not, academics from Bristol, Manchester and Oxford Universities have found that austerity is a factor in the rising numbers of male suicides, mainly because of cuts to mental health services.

We’re all in agreement: the cuts must stop, and if Mr Cameron can’t see the impact they’re having in his own backyard, perhaps this will be the eye-opener he needs. And if this isn’t, then what will be?