George Osborne: more unpopular than Nick Clegg

Satisfaction with the Chancellor is now lower than with Clegg.

If you want an indication of how far George Osborne's political stock has fallen since the Budget, just take a look at the latest Guardian/ICM poll. The survey shows that net satisfaction with the Chancellor has fallen to -32, with Osborne now more unpopular than even Nick Clegg (whose rating is -26). In addition, 48% of voters say that Osborne should lose his job in next week's reshuffle (11% have no opinion), more than for any other cabinet minister (Andrew Lansley, who 37% of voters want to see moved, is in second place). This figure rises to 52% among the over 65s and 53% among those aged between 35 and 64 – the age groups most likely to vote - and includes 39% of those who voted Conservative in 2010. By 44% to 43%, more 2010 Tory voters than not now say that Osborne is doing a bad job.

The Guardian notes that "Senior Tory figures, who are calling in private for Osborne to swap with the foreign secretary William Hague, are likely to seize on the poll", but forgets that David Cameron has already publicly guaranteed Osborne's position. He told Sky News earlier this month: "George Osborne is doing an excellent job in very difficult circumstances and he has my full support in going on doing that job." Asked if he would still be in place in 2015, he replied: "He's not going anywhere... yes."

Unless accompanied by a change in economic policy, the removal of Osborne would, in any case, prove a false panacea. Until Cameron recognises the need for the government to stimulate growth through tax cuts and higher spending (and abandons the myth that you can't "borrow your way out of a debt crisis"), his party's fortunes will not improve. As Paul Krugman sagely observed in a recent essay for the New York Review of Books, "the economic strategy that works best politically isn’t the strategy that finds approval with focus groups, let alone with the editorial page of The Washington Post; it’s the strategy that actually delivers results." With or without Osborne, Cameron's priority must be to finally adopt a strategy that works.

Just 24% of voters say that George Osborne is doing a "good job" as Chancellor. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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