Cameron speech verdict: Where is all this money suddenly coming from?

David Cameron made a lot of very expensive promises today. The tax-free personal allowance will be raised to £12,500, the top rate of income tax will only kick in at £50,000 and 100,000 new homes will go on sale 20% below the market price for British first-time buyers under the age of 40.

The prime minister did not explain where the money was going to come from. In fact, he seemed to rule out ways of costing the proposals.

He pledged the UK's level of corporation tax would always be the lowest in the G20 – a promise which puts us at the mercy of the internal political debate in other states. So it won’t come from corporations. He also repeated George Osborne's insistence yesterday that tax rises are not the way to address a deficit. So that appears to be ruled out too.

The tax cuts are very good policy. By boosting the incomes of low and middle earners, the economy can be kicked into high gear. It is also morally sound, handing spending money to the people who need it most. Politically, it goes some way to addressing the outrage of freezing tax credits, which will heavily penalise precisely the hard-working, low income families the government purports to support.

But without some idea of where the money comes from, this is like a Robin Hood who gives to the poor without having stolen from the rich first. Precisely what does he have to give them?

The Institute for Fiscal Studies say the pledges will cost £7 billion a year by 2020 – twice the cost of the money saved by freezing working age benefits for two years.

Presumably answers about where the money is coming from will be forthcoming. If not, the speech will unravel in hours. On the radio a moment ago Michael Gove was struggling to explain it, but that does not in itself mean it is not understood. He is not as clever or as impressive as his admirers say.

Regardless of whether answers are later given, the absence of costings in the speech itself was a massive political failure because it contradicted its central premise.

Cameron's argument is that only he can guarantee social justice, because it is pre-conditioned on the successful running of the economy. It’s clever stuff. He is behind in the polls on understanding the lives of ordinary people. So the speech saw him address that by making it conditional on the area in which he polls strongly: management of the economy.

But that image of responsibility is only believable because the Tories don’t throw money around all over the place without figuring out where it is coming from. His failure to cost the tax cuts took the legs out from under his central argument. As Osborne said about Gordon on Brown in 2008: "If he doesn’t explain how it is going to be paid for then it isn’t a tax cut, it is a complete tax con."

This is the natural end point for Tory economic theory. They refuse to increase the tax burden on the very wealthy – be they individuals or companies. So now when they want to reduce it for ordinary workers, they struggle to articulate how. Robin Hood understood how personal finance worked. If only the prime minister did too.

As Grayling gives his speech, an independent report paints a different picture

The biggest cheer during Chris Grayling's speech today came when he told Conservative delegates of his 'lights-out' policy. Under his new regime, all young offenders' institutes must switch off the lights and TVs by 10:30pm.

He told delegates:

"We've introduced a 'lights out' in young offender institutions, to give those young people more of a structure and discipline to their day."

It's the type of policy Grayling loves. It sounds like common sense. Why should kids be up all night playing Playstation when they're supposed to be getting accustomed to the straight and narrow?

But when you scratch below the surface of seemingly unarguable policies such as this, you often find the real world is more complicated than that allowed by the easy rhetoric of party conference season.

As Grayling was making his speech, the Independent Monitoring Board’s annual report into young offenders institute Werrington was published on his department's own website. It raised concerns about the lights-out policy.

"The board must also raise concern regarding the new regime which means that all TVs will be turned off at 10.30pm, as professional advice given indicates that many young people use the background noise of the TV to help them get to sleep.

"This we understand has been the norm for many years, and concern must be raised that there is a possibility that distressed young people may react to self-harming during the night, when they have no other distraction, and when there is only one nurse on duty and on lock down."

It will not make a jot of difference, but Grayling is being warned that young people are more likely to self-harm as a result of his policy. It’s not the first warning he's had. Others have highlighted the fear of the dark often felt by children who have faced abuse or trauma. For them, the lights-out policy causes mental anguish.

This is the problem with quick fixes, with replacing thought-out policy with whatever you think will look good in a headline. Once you start to look at the evidence, cracks appear.

There was plenty in the report which challenged the rose-tinted view Grayling painted of his achievements in office.

As the justice secretary praised the performance of prisons under his tenure, the Werrington report was laying out the reality of staff cuts.

"During this period Werrington has been understaffed and officers from other establishments have been required to supplement the staff. If the officers come from another YOI [young offenders institute] they are aware of the regime but officers without YOI experience admit they are 'guessing' and are not able to fulfil all the duties."

The report also contained an implicit warning about Grayling's plans to build a massive child prison in Leicester. This goes against all the evidence of what works best for young offenders and prisoners alike: small, local prisons, where contact with family can be maintained.

"Whilst there is no set pattern of self harm, it can be caused by being located away from family, bad news from home or partner, bullying or the distress of being in custody."

The reality of life in prison or a young offenders' institute never seems to affect Grayling very much. He is motivated more by what is in his head than what is in the world. Independent inspectors are more critical.  Their story is rather different story to the one he told on the stage of the Tory party conference this afternoon.

Could Theresa May's 'extremism Asbo' ban the Socialist Workers Party?

Updated 13:28. See below

We've only the broad outlines of Theresa May's new 'banning orders' and 'extremism disruption orders', but they are already startlingly wide-ranging.

At first glance – and we will have to wait for further information in her conference speech – they would appear to ban groups such as the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the English Defence League or some anti-abortion groups.

The banning orders, which would apply to organisations, are aimed at groups who are not involved with or encouraging terrorism, but undertake activities "for the purpose of overthrowing democracy". That is obviously a very wide term which applies, for instance, to all revolutionary Communist or Socialist groups.

Organisations could also face a banning order if they incite religious or racial hatred. This is also a difficult category. A Christian group which wished to read certain juicier sections of the Old Testament in public would satisfy it.

Groups could also face a banning order if there is a pressing need to protect the public from a risk of violence, public disorder, harassment or other criminal acts.

This is a clear attempt to degrade British legal standards. Groups which incite violence are already banned. This would apply bans to a lower standard, where a minister believes they might create a risk violence by virtue of their activity. Say Nigel Farage makes an impassioned speech against Muslim immigration. This might create a risk of violence among impressionable viewers fired up by his rhetoric. Should Ukip be subject to the orders?

The use of the phrases "public disorder" and "harassment" are particularly concerning. It is easy to imagine the use of banning orders against harmless groups like Occupy or UK Uncut ahead of a May Day protest. Anti-abortion groups, who often camp outside of abortion clinics trying to talk to women going in for a termination, often while holding graphic images of dead foetuses, could potentially be included in the harassment category.

The standard of proof for these initiatives is very low. There'll be an immediate review by the high court, but ministers must only "reasonably believe" the group satisfies these criteria.

Extremism disruption orders - which would apply to individuals, not groups - would be issued by a high court judge on an application from the police on the lower legal test of "balance of probabilities" rather than the stronger test of "beyond reasonable doubt". This means judges won't even need to be sure before they strip British citizens of their rights of free speech.

Individuals would be banned from speaking at public events, protests or meetings, they'd have to inform the police in advance of a public event they planned to attend and could be barred from particular locations. They could not broadcast, associate with certain people, or post to social media without police authorisation.

Again, the high court would have to decide the individual was intending to spread, incite, promote or justify hatred on the basis of a person's disability, gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation "for the purpose of overthrowing democracy". But when Lord Carlile, the former independent reviewer of terrorism laws, was on the Today programme this morning, he suggested the legal standard would also include "alarm or distress".

That's a reasonable conclusion. 'Alarm and distress' are standard statutory categories added to 'harassment', for instance in Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. They are very broad and problematic categories and indeed have led to some quite perverse outcomes. Police often arrested people for swearing, for instance, by claiming to be personally 'distressed' by it. An Oxford student was arrested for saying a police horse was gay. The standard is slippery and problematic at the best of times. Applying it to anything as severe as extremism orders is asking for disaster.

Of course, May doesn't actually want to ban the Socialist Workers Party or anti-abortion campaigners or Christian groups. This is the usual tactic: they stretch out the legal standards to breaking point to allow the police as much leeway as possible, then hand-pick their targets. It degrades British legal standards, it discriminates against certain causes, it allows ministers far too much power over free speech and it constitutes thought crime. If someone does not believe in democracy, that is their problem. We should certainly not be so insecure as to outlaw their views.

The combination of broad offences and specific, severe legal sanction was precisely the technique used by New Labour. David Cameron attacked it in opposition and stuck to his word in the first few years of the coalition. Now sensible, moderate men like Dominic Grieves have been jettisoned and the authoritarians are running amok once more.

I'll update the blog once Theresa May has made her speech and we have a clearer idea of what’s being proposed.

Update 13:28:

There was precious little detail of the new orders in Theresa May's speech (which, for the record, was very well recieved in the hall and in the press). I've called the Tory press office and they've not got anything to add yet either, although they may be sending something later.

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