Sunday, 20 March 2016

Fallout 2

Another budget, another fiasco from George Osborne. This one might well enter the Guinness Book of World Records for the fastest unraveling on record. As ever Osborne's problem, and indeed a problem with many modern politicians, is they're almost completely incapable of thinking for themselves - hence why the need the army of special advisers. So it is with Osborne. The majority of his successful budgets have all come when he's had someone else's ideas to nab; the failures when he's had to do the hard thinking himself. The IFS has already comprehensively torn it to shreds and it was looking like it was going to be a bad week for the Tories and an amusing one for me.

Then Ian Duncan Smith resigned and it kicked up a notch from 'amusing' to 'hilarious'.

I can't really improve on Septisticle's discussion of it, so I won't try. I'd only add that I am perfectly willing to believe that this wasn't mainly about the EU for Smith. I think he perhaps does genuinely believe that this is where he has to draw the line on matter of principle. Ideologues often have odd ways of viewing the world (I should know I am one) and often remain committed to damaging ideological experiments long after the evidence has come in saying it should be canned (see also, academies and whatever the hell Hunt is attempting to do with the NHS).

There's no doubt this is damaging for the Conservatives. They're a complete mess at the moment and, for a supposed bunch of master strategists, the way they've lost control of this so quickly is eyebrow raising. The bitter infighting over this could rage for a while and it neatly shows just how little control Cameron has over his backbenchers. Osborne's reputation seems to be in the kermit as well and it'll be quite something if he bounces back from it. It will, however, be hard for him though. With the EU referendum on the horizon the right-wing papers are no longer inclined to be indulgent of him. It's telling, really, that all Osborne has done here is the same schtick he's always done - taking from welfare to fund giveaways at the top end. Indeed right back in one his early budgets, when he dropped the top rate of tax from 50% to 45%, the rationale was that it was only bringing in an extra £500 million, which was a piddling amount. That budget also contained an extra saving of £500 million pounds from the welfare budget, which was an important contributor to deficit reduction. It was fairly obvious to me then what game he was playing, but I'm delighted to see that others are catching up.

As for the Labour party, this is a good moment for them. On the back of two polls now showing them neck and neck and one point ahead, they seem to be building some momentum. Whether it lasts or not is an open question, and they have their own troubles ahead, but it is all there to be capitalized on. What it perhaps shows, more than anything, is that Corbyn seems to have succeeded in his fundamental goal of dragging Labour leftwards. Whilst Paul Mason is overplaying it to suggest that Corbyn's wholly responsible for this disorder in the Conservatives, John Rentoul is definitely underplaying it to suggest he had no part in it. Yes, Cameron and co are more worried about their backbenchers but it's worth noting that none of them were really piping up until after Corbyn made his effective budget response (you can usually tell how well Corbyn's done in a speech by how sour the grapes are among the media commentators. And after that one they all looked like they'd been chewing on lemons.) In particular the way he simply and directly pointed out that Osborne was robbing £30 a weak from some of the most vulnerable in society to pay for a tax give away at the top end made the Conservative benches look visibly very uncomfortable.

I would like to believe that this would have happened under the other leadership contenders, but I find it hard to imagine that the group that abstained on the 'tax credits budget' in order to look credible would have drawn the line here. For this Corbyn deserves some credit for seeming to change the nature of the debate. In doing so he's achieved more than Ed Miliband managed on these issues. Much as I like Ed he was always hampered by accepting cuts in principle, and so could always be batted with the 'so what would you cut then' line. Later on he went into the Harman tactic of abstaining and voting in favour to look credible, that had the predictable result of just moving the debate rightwards and undermining any arguments made against.

It's been notable just how willing Labour are to go on the offensive about this, even from the 'true opposition' crowd, where before I suspect they would have been wringing around with the 'have to understand the real concerns of the people' line (and would have perhaps achieved the remarkable feat of being outflanked on the left by IDS). This is a good thing and hopefully bodes well for the party being able to unite some more and start getting a consistent attack line going [1]. That I think can be fairly put down to Corbyn who seems to have managed to finally pushed the party to being stronger in standing up for the vulnerable and, yes, putting some principles into effect rather than just worrying about how to get a grip on power. And, materially, it's having results.

Ineffective opposition eh? Might be something to it.


[1] Well, at least until the Trident shenanigans trip them up again.

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