Osborne's very limited apology

The problem with the Budget wasn't merely presentational.

George Osborne is proud of his reputation as the Conservatives' pre-eminent political strategist, so it will have been painful for him to admit that he mishandled the politics of the Budget - the event that precipitated the "omnishambles". In today's Mail on Sunday, he concedes that the decision to abolish the 50p tax rate overshadowed the increase in the personal allowance: "The way the Budget was presented meant this message (helping low-earners) wasn’t heard. I take responsibility for that."

But as Douglas Alexander argued on The Andrew Marr Show, the problem with the Budget wasn't (or wasn't only) one of style but one of substance. It was impossible for Osborne to deliver a Budget that cut taxes for the top one per cent of earners without this tarnishing every other measure. As apologies go, then, the Chancellor's is a very limited one. Nor will he accept that his excessive austerity measures bear any responsibility for the double-dip. Appearing on the Marr show this morning, he repeated the familiar mantra that the eurozone crisis and the 2008 financial crisis were wholly to blame.

In his analysis of the local election results, he rightly rejected the absurd claim by some Conservative backbenchers that David Cameron's support for gay marriage and House of Lords reform led to voters deserting the Tories ("simply not the case"). Osborne, a genuine social liberal, also dismissed the claim in today's Sunday Times (£) that the government is backtracking on gay marriage. There was never due to be legislation in the Queen's Speech and the consultation period isn't over. "We are socially progressive country and it's something I suppport but let's hear what people have to say," he said. At the same time, he strongly hinted that the government has little desire to pursue House of Lords reform. "Parliament can discuss these issues, Parliament is very good at debating constitutional reform but it is certainly not my priority, it is not the priority of the government," he said. There will be no cast-iron commitment to Lords reform in the Queen's Speech.

The most intriguing section of the interview, however, was on today's French election. Some on the right have portrayed François Hollande as a dangerous socialist (as opposed to a moderate social democrat) but Osborne observed: "he's not anti-austerity actually. He has not departed from the message that you've got to deal with the French deficit." Indeed, Hollande has pledged to eliminate his country's 5.2 per cent deficit by 2017, just a year later than Nicolas Sarkozy. The irony is that were Hollande a British politician, his commitment to a more balanced plan and to fiscal stimulus would see Osborne dismiss him as a "deficit denier".

George Osborne chats with aides before the start of the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.

2016

Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?

2015

Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”

2010

Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”

***

A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.