25 Nov 2015

Osborne and the empathy debate

George Osborne got a bit lucky two weeks ago when the numbers came in from the OBR… and he decided to blow the money.

We may never know what he planned to do before that point.

Whitehall sources say that he had already decided that he had to pull out completely from the tax credits nose-dive and not just tweak his trajectory. They talk of how the Gordon Brown perpetual tweaking over the 10p rate abolition was a lesson learnt in how not to perform a U-turn.

There is clearly a lasting legacy for George Osborne.

Even if large chunks of the country forget a tax credits cut they never had implemented, his MPs will recall it. It speaks to some of them of a giant empathy deficit.

George Osborne has MPs dotted around the entire ministerial apparatus who owe their place to him. He has run a Gordon Brown-style patronage operation even if didn’t entirely reach for the Gordon Brown copybook on U-turn deportment.

“They will remain loyal to him as long as he remains loyal to them,” one minister said, in a rather transactional way. While Boris Johnson needs to work on winning respect but has the affection of the grassroots, George Osborne has the reverse task in hand.

But there is no getting away from the brutal truth that the Tory high command was not in touch with the strivers they’d claimed to champion.

I was reminded of the anecdote from one Tory minister who remembered George Osborne spinning on his heels and walking away from some relatively low to medium cost terraced suburban housing while canvassing in his seat saying there was no point talking to people in houses like that as they would all be Labour. It was actually quite good terrain for the Tories, just not Tories that George Osborne was hugely well acquainted with.

To be fair that anecdote dates back five years and George Osborne has been on a blue-collar, high-vis jacket tour of the nation ever since.

But to be brutal, it took a bunch of people in ermine to stop him in his tracks.

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