The campaigns for the 2015 general election in the UK have, for the most, been pretty tame thus far; yet suddenly, things are increasingly starting to resemble an episode of The Thick Of It. As the immortal Malcolm Tucker once said: "Leaking is a fundamental part of our governmental system! Do you know what happens if a government can't leak? Dark shit builds up. And then…it bursts.”
Case in point: fresh-faced Lib Dem chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, has just leaked a (supposed) Tory proposal to make 8 billion pounds’ worth of cuts to welfare (specifically, child benefits and child tax credits) in the UK. The effect has been incendiary. Nick Clegg came out guns blazing, called the Conservatives’ plans “deceitful,” accusing them of “[pulling] the wool over people’s eyes,” and suggested that the Lib Dems would be wary of forming another coalition with the Tories. O rly. Meanwhile Ed Miliband - hot on the heels of his totally unexpected though successful PR stunt/interview with Russell Brand - has seized on the leak, saying "The Tories’ secret plan has been revealed...It’s the final proof that working families can’t afford five years of the Tories.”
As I write this, I’m watching all of this play out on BBC Question Time, where Cameron has just finished squirming and dodging tough questions (though emerging, I think, largely unscathed), with the puppet masters and live tweeters sitting in a High Victorian Gothic spin room. And Miliband has just ruled out a Labour coalition with SNP. Things are heating up!
At last the parties are socking it to each other and to us, making moves that highlight the significance of the choice. Alexander’s decision to leak details of Conservative plans to cut welfare benefits is the most vivid example of a new fighting spirit. For much of the last five years Alexander played the role of George Osborne’s loyal deputy at the Treasury, or appeared to do so. Now with a bold, dramatic flourish he reveals that in private meetings he attended in 2012 the Conservatives were contemplating sweeping welfare cuts, targeting in particular child benefit.