Political sketch: Debt tops £1tn, Gideon swans off

Osborne opts for European lunch as Alexander is left to face the music.

As Britain's national debt passed £1 trillion for the first time, Chancellor George Osborne fled the country -- or at least he went to Brussels, which in Tory circles counts as the same thing. George should have been taking it on the chin at Treasury Questions in the House of Commons but instead was spotted lunching it with the enemy at the very meeting he and Dave said they wanted nothing to do with just last month.

But the opportunity to be a silent observer at the talks to try yet again to resolve the EU's economic difficulties must have seemed a far more attractive position than being lumbered with the explanation of the £1,000,000,000,000 debt.

These are the sorts of headlines that, 19 months into a Government facing the worst economic crisis since 1929, an Opposition could only hope for but yet again today it is Labour that finds itself out in the cold. Those who managed to translate last week's clash with the unions and the latest re-launch into a good week for Labour and its leader Ed Miliband had a 5 per cent lead for the Tories in the latest opinion poll to explain away.

Much more worryingly was the revelation that 51 per cent of Labour supporters did not think their own party had a credible alternative for tackling the deficit and 59 per cent of them still find it difficult to imagine Ed M running the country.

All of which helped to put a playful smile on the lips of George's Coalition coat carrier Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander called in to cover his tracks. Danny was the late draftee to replace David Laws and spent the first six months looking as if he had taken the wrong turning on the way to school. But no longer and he now has taken to his job with all the passion of a convert.

No nods towards his Lib Dem past from him who is happy to out-Tory the Tories in his defence of the Government. Buoyed up no doubt by the opinion polls, he was happy to pass the blame for the £1 trillion straight back to Labour as part of the Coalition's continuingly successful campaign to persuade the public that all their present troubles were inherited. And slumped in the seat opposite sat the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls who had all her look of someone who agreed with the charge.

Despite the absence of his usual sparring partner, Ed had turned up to see if anyone else wanted a fight but you could tell his heart was not in it. Was Danny aware the IMF had just downgraded Britain's growth forecast, he asked. "Am I bovvered?" seemed Danny's reply. Tomorrow the Office for Budget Responsibility is believed to be confirming that under George's watch we are now formally back in recession.

More bad news for Labour.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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