This morning has been a reminder of how difficult this conference will be for the Tories. Two policies were announced overnight and neither have landed well. Theresa May then delivered a nervy performance on the Andrew Marr Show that will have done little to reassure Tories that she can turn things round.
On tuition fees, the Tories have announced a freeze in their levels. It is hard to understand the politics behind this. It raises the salience of the issue without coming up with a solution. Those who went Labour because of their policy of abolishing fees won’t be won over by this. The other policy announcement is more money for George Osborne’s old Help to Buy scheme. But this doesn’t deal with the fundamental housing problem, a lack of supply.
May is fast turning into the Tory Ed Miliband. She has a knack of identifying problems. But she then fails to come up with solutions that are adequate to the scale of the problem that she has identified.
On Marr, May suggested that the Tories could go further on fees in future. She said, ‘we will look at it again’. But senior Department for Education sources are busy this morning denying that there is any review coming which makes the Tory decision to talk up this issue even more puzzling.
In an unconvincing performance, May would also not set out where the extra money for this freeze and help to buy was coming from, telling Marr to wait for the Budget. The Budget is fast turning into the moment of maximum political danger for the government as every problem is kicked down the road to then.
At the end of the interview, Marr pushed May on her diminished authority within the Cabinet, asking if Boris Johnson is unsackable. May dodged with relative elegance, saying that viewers at home were more interested in they and their families’ job prospects than her or Boris’s. But the fact she could not answer the question was telling and a sign of how tough a week this will be for the Prime Minister.