Officials in the Treasury report that since the General Election George Osborne has exuded a new kind of confidence. This master tactician helped to deliver a surprise victory for the Conservatives. His plan for the economy seems to be working. The Summer Budget was a master-class in the art of economics and politics. It was hailed by the Chancellor and the much of the press as a low tax budget for workers, while in fact it did the opposite. The IFS noted it increased taxes by £6bn and it set out cuts to in work payments. In the meantime George Osborne reached out to claim the centre ground with the Opposition all but dead. At the Conservative Party conference the Chancellor duly received a hero’s welcome. Was this to be their next leader? The polls certainly indicate it will be so.
But has George Osborne ‘peaked too soon’? Not two weeks into the real start of this Parliamentary session the challenge of an effective majority of 12 is beginning to bite. The Government has only just scraped through the Commons with the Chancellor’s tax credit proposals with even new MPs such as Heidi Allen lucidly questioning the policy. This wasn’t in the manifesto. It won’t impact on the scroungers so much as the grafters and many of them lone parent grafters. While this may not be the Chancellor’s ‘poll tax moment’ (voters have short memories and there are many freebies that can be given away ahead of 2020 to sooth frayed nerves) for many compassionate Conservative MPs and voters alike, this wasn’t meant to be. Meanwhile, the Government are threatening to slap down any Lords rebellion on the policy, potentially opening up a constitutional battle, which by any estimation is the last thing they need.
And this is only the start. The extension of Sunday trading hours, much fan-fared in the Budget, has been temporatily postponed, with the Telegraph reporting a rebellion of up to 20 Conservative MPs. The Autumn Statement will set-out cuts with many departments seeing reduced budgets of up to 25%. According to the IFS it will be ‘horrific’. And this is all before the negotiations on the EU referendum, which the Chancellor will be inextricably linked to, have even begun. So while the polls have been with George Osborne, is the tide beginning to turn? To date the George Osborne’s political manoeuvres have succeeded at almost every turn. But will the Chancellor look back with hindsight at the heady days of his post-election conference speech and see it less as a hero’s welcome and more one of hubris?