KEITH NEWBERY COLUMN (July 17th): Careless talk could cost elections

TWELVE months ago, almost to the day, Nicholas Boles MP, said on Newsnight that the phone-hacking scandal – which was on the brink of consuming News International and bringing down the best-selling newspaper in Britain - was ‘a little local difficulty puffed up by Labour.’

It’s reasonable to presume, therefore, there has to be a question-mark over his astuteness and political acumen.

However, this has not stopped him becoming one of David Cameron’s closest allies, a favoured position no doubt influenced by a shared public school background and membership of what has become known as the ‘Notting Hill set.’

It is from this rarefied position in the social stratosphere that Boles has been asked to pronounce upon the most effective way to make cuts in the welfare budget.

As regards horses for courses, it was rather like asking Julian Clary to write a treatise on rugby league.

Boles has the elderly in his sights – and if he has his way ‘better-off’ pensioners will be deprived of free bus-passes, free prescriptions and their annual winter fuel payments.

‘Better-off’ is a deceptively simple compound adjective, but it could prove to be an election minefield for David Cameron.

For example, it has been suggested that ‘better-off’ could refer to any OAPs who pay tax.

Ask people, who have spent their working lives earning a meagre pension which takes them a few quid over the £10,000 tax threshold, just how affluent they feel.

At PMQs this week, Cameron was quick to bat aside Boles’ ideas, and inferred the Tories would stick to their manifesto pledge of protecting such payments to the elderly.

But to his evident annoyance, the connection has now been established between his party and possible pensioner persecution.

The older generation have done their bit, and by way of a thank-you from a grateful nation, millions are now faced with the prospect of having their homes snatched to fund social care for which they feel they have already paid.

Cameron knows only too well these people form the biggest electoral bloc by some distance – 12 million usually turn out to vote - and political parties threaten them at their peril.

During the last war, it was said careless talk could cost lives. In contemporary politics, careless talk could cost elections.

THE recent unpleasantness across the Despatch Box between George Osborne and Ed Balls has rebounded rather nastily on the Chancellor.

His suggestion – both written and verbal - that his Labour counterpart had played a deceitful role in the Barclays’ bank-rate (Libor) fixing scandal was squashed by Paul Tucker’s categorical denial during his evidence to the Treasury Select Committee.

Far be it from me to cast aspersions on the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, but he would say that wouldn’t he?

Any other answer would have implicated him and his august employers, and reduced to rubble any remaining trust in this country’s financial institutions.

Either way, it’s a fascinating word, Libor. A perfect hybrid of Labour and libel...