Jonathan Ashworth MP: Osborne 'has failed his party, failed the economy and failed our country'
Shadow Minister without portfolio, Jonathan Ashworth MP writes for PoliticsHome following last week's Budget and the subsequent resignation of DWP Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
"This is an ultra-shambles”. “George’s position is pretty precarious right now.” “George is clearly unfit for the job”.
Just some of the briefing against George Osborne over the last couple of days. I suspect there will be more. But surely more damaging are the comments from former Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, attacking the “deeply unfair” Budget, abandoning his support for the Government’s Welfare Cap and completely shattering the Tories’ claim that “we’re all in this together”.
Of course there is nothing particularly unusual about George Osborne's Budgets unravelling in the days and weeks after they are delivered. We all remember the 2012 ‘omnishambles’ Budget – a disastrous decision to cut the top rate of tax for the richest one per cent of earners, followed by weeks and months of u-turns on the smaller measures, on everything from the pasty tax to VAT on caravans.
But the fallout from this Budget goes beyond anything we have seen in recent years. This isn’t just an unravelling of a Budget, it is an unravelling of George Osborne’s entire economic strategy.
George Osborne is a Chancellor - with now 10 special advisors costing the taxpayer just under £700,000 - who always puts career ambitions above the interests of the economy and British people. Iain Duncan Smith let the cat out of the bag in his resignation letter when he said he was “unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self-imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interests.” Ouch!
Of course no one will quite believe Iain Duncan Smith’s sudden change of heart on social security cuts. After all this is the man who introduced the Bedroom Tax. But what it does reveal is growing anger within the Conservative Party about George Osborne’s management of the economy.
In the political fallout of Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation we should not lose sight of what was actually in Wednesday’s Budget. A weakening economy meant £38 billion more borrowing compared to November’s Autumn Statement and a struggle for Osborne to hit his inflexible and self-imposed surplus target. To make up for this he chose to hit to the most vulnerable in our society while at the same time giving further tax cuts to wealthy individuals and big corporations. These were unfair choices and the wrong priorities, but they’re what we have come to expect with this Chancellor.
George Osborne’s cuts to Personal Independence mean 370,000 disabled people are set to lose an average of £3,500 a year. In recent days the Tories have sought to downplay these cuts, with the Education Secretary describing them as simply a “suggestion”. But this is nonsense. These disability benefit cuts account for almost a third of the net savings scored in the Budget Red Book by 2020-21. Meanwhile the higher rate for Capital Gains Tax has been cut to 20 per cent – a tax George Osborne himself raised in 2010 saying doing so was necessary to “create a fairer tax system”.
George Osborne now needs to urgently clarify whether these cuts to disability benefits will go ahead and, if not, how he will make up for the huge hole in his Budget.
The resignation of Iain Duncan Smith reveals a Tory Government in disarray and a Chancellor who has lost any credibility to manage the economy in the interests of the British people. As Jeremy Corbyn has said, George Osborne should take responsibility and resign. He has failed his party, failed the economy and failed our country.
Jonathan Ashworth is Shadow Minister without portfolio and the Labour MP for Leicester South
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