Osborne's reputation continues to unravel

The "pasty tax" U-turn shows Osborne is now losing the politics as well as the economics.

Until recently, the received wisdom was that George Osborne was losing the economic battle (the economy has shrunk by 0.4 per cent since the Spending Review) but winning the political war. Labour's poll lead seemed fragile (remember Cameron's veto bounce?) and the Tories were still more trusted on the economy. Now, as the sudden U-turn on the "pasty tax" confirms, the politics have became problematic too.

The coalition's previous U-turns - on the forests sell-off, school milk, Bookstart, school sports, anonymity for rape suspects and NHS direct - were at least made from a position of relative strength. The government could plausibly argue that it was "listening" to public opinion and observe that U-turns are an occupational hazard of coalitions. But after the "omnishambles" precipitated by Osborne's Budget, the latest policy reversals (on the pasty tax, the caravan tax and secret courts) feel like a desperate (and likely worthless) attempt to regain public approval. They will also create an unrealistic hope among voters of U-turns on similarly controversial issues.

In the case of Osborne, we can expect the U-turns to provoke another series of jibes about "the part-time Chancellor" (Osborne is both Chancellor and the Tories' chief election strategist). Had he burned a little more midnight oil, rather than jetting off, less than a week before the Budget, to join David Cameron's US junket, some of the damage could have been prevented.

Yet Osborne's decision to cut the 50p tax rate (which polls showed even Tory voters supported) meant the Budget was always destined to be a political disaster. Voters always resent new taxes but Osborne's willingness to cut taxes for the 1 per cent meant their resentment was even greater. "We are not all in this together" was the conclusion they rightly drew.

As a result, the public are also now less willing to give Osborne the benefit of the doubt on deficit reduction and growth - the Chancellor's previous stronghold. A poll in today's Independent finds that seven out of 10 people want Osborne to adopt a "plan B" to give growth priority over cuts, while elsewhere, YouGov shows that Labour maintains its new-found lead on the economy.  The Chancellor, once regarded as the natural successor to Cameron, will struggle to restore his political reputation.

A baker holds a tray of pastries as she joins supporters outside Downing Street in London on April 26, 2012 to protest and deliver a petition against the so-called 'pasty tax'. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Sadiq Khan gives Jeremy Corbyn's supporters a lesson on power

The London mayor doused the Labour conference with cold electoral truths. 

There was just one message that Sadiq Khan wanted Labour to take from his conference speech: we need to be “in power”. The party’s most senior elected politician hammered this theme as relentlessly as his “son of a bus driver” line. His obsessive emphasis on “power” (used 38 times) showed how far he fears his party is from office and how misguided he believes Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters are.

Khan arrived on stage to a presidential-style video lauding his mayoral victory (a privilege normally reserved for the leader). But rather than delivering a self-congratulatory speech, he doused the conference with cold electoral truths. With the biggest personal mandate of any British politician in history, he was uniquely placed to do so.

“Labour is not in power in the place that we can have the biggest impact on our country: in parliament,” he lamented. It was a stern rebuke to those who regard the street, rather than the ballot box, as the principal vehicle of change.

Corbyn was mentioned just once, as Khan, who endorsed Owen Smith, acknowledged that “the leadership of our party has now been decided” (“I congratulate Jeremy on his clear victory”). But he was a ghostly presence for the rest of the speech, with Khan declaring “Labour out of power will never ever be good enough”. Though Corbyn joined the standing ovation at the end, he sat motionless during several of the applause lines.

If Khan’s “power” message was the stick, his policy programme was the carrot. Only in office, he said, could Labour tackle the housing crisis, air pollution, gender inequality and hate crime. He spoke hopefully of "winning the mayoral elections next year in Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham", providing further models of campaigning success. 

Khan peroration was his most daring passage: “It’s time to put Labour back in power. It's time for a Labour government. A Labour Prime Minister in Downing Street. A Labour Cabinet. Labour values put into action.” The mayor has already stated that he does not believe Corbyn can fulfil this duty. The question left hanging was whether it would fall to Khan himself to answer the call. If, as he fears, Labour drifts ever further from power, his lustre will only grow.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.