The Chancellor and Prime Minister should resurrect their charitable sides and repair the Budget’s damageby Peter Kellner / March 24, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: Budget 2016: the Prospect panel
George Osborne has got away with it for now; but for how long? The terrible events in Brussels have diverted attention from the row over benefits for disabled people; and Jeremy Corbyn’s ineffective performances in the House of Commons on Monday and Wednesday mean that Labour has missed its opportunity to benefit from the government’s discomfort.
But the issue will not die. It is bound to resurface. And by “issue” I mean not just the specific matter of the latest benefit cuts: these have been abandoned, and are unlikely to resurface before the next election. Rather, I mean something deeper. The real danger to the Tories is their apparent inability to shed their image of a party of the toffs, for the toffs, run by the toffs.
Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation from the position of Secretary for Work and Pensions damaged the Chancellor not so much because of the specifics of his Budget policies and numbers, but because IDS—a right-wing former Tory leader, and subsequently cabinet minister for six years—mocked the government’s claim that “we are all in it together.” Of course David Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/Press Association Images responded on Monday by asserting his credentials as a one-nation Conservative; and of course Osborne, on Tuesday, spoke of his plans to spend ever more on disability benefits.
But neither the Prime Minister nor his Chancellor spoke as if their hearts were in it. Cameron’s tone was patrician, while Osborne’s was that of a sneering clever-clogs. You sensed (at any rate, I sensed) that if a disabled constituent in needing more help (say, because they had been hit by the bedroom tax) came to one of their local MP surgeries, they would respond not with empathy and a determination to help, but with a lecture on fiscal rectitude, a sermon about “tough choices” and a wish to fob off the struggling constituent as fast as possible with the smallest and vaguest…