Thursday 7 May 2015 may seem a long way off to most of us but to Britain's political leaders it is already very close. On that day (unless there is a prior collapse of the government or a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons for an earlier date) Britain's 56th Parliament will be elected.
Yesterday, when appearing at the Parliamentary Treasury Select Committee, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, showed just how close the election is in his mind by saying that a new Conservative government would not raise taxes in the 2015/16 period. In the final days before every election party leaders are asked to say whether, if elected, they will raise or reduce taxes but usually manage to find an evasive form of words which avoids making financial commitments it may be impossible to keep. Yet here is George Osborne, almost two years ahead of the election, and in a still far-from-settled economic environment, claiming that he will not raise taxes but find necessary savings in further cuts to departments and in particular to the welfare services. I don't think we have reached the end point in reforming welfare, he said yesterday, stiffening Conservative spines and sending shivers down the backs of those who believe that welfare services have been hurt enough already. Showing confidence? Perhaps. Warning vulnerable voters to stay with Labour? Probably.