The image tweeted by Conservative chairman Grant Shapps last night.
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The Tories' bingo poster spoils Osborne's morning

The Chancellor is forced to comment on the patronising image in every broadcast interview.

For George Osborne, yesterday's Budget was a shambles-free occasion, with most of the changes he announced welcomed by the media and Labour unable to attack any specific measure (focusing instead on the continuing decline in living standards). But the Chancellor's morning has been marred by a remarkably inept poster tweeted by Conservative chairman Grant Shapps last night. 

In reference to the cuts in bingo tax and beer duty announced in the Budget, it declares that the Tories are helping "hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy" - an astonishingly patronising line that treats "working people" ("they") as a foreign breed. Robert Halfon, the MP for Harlow, who led the campaign for a cut in bingo duty, must have had his head in his hands. (The familiar claim that the party is for "hardworking people" reminds me of Margaret Thatcher on power: "Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.")

Even Danny Alexander, whom Lib Dems accuse of going "native" at the Treasury, was moved to rare criticism, telling Newsnight: “I thought it was a spoof at first, it’s just pretty extraordinary. It may be our Budget but it’s their words, I think it’s rather patronising." 

As a result, Osborne has been asked to comment on the poster in every broadcast interview he's done this morning in just the kind of distraction from the "core message" that politcians loathe. He attempted to dismiss the row as "a campaign whipped up by Labour" but that conveniently ignores that it was conservative journalists, including Michael Gove's wife Sarah Vine (who tweeted "Please tell me this is not real"), who led the charge

While the furore hardly complains with the aftermath of the 2012 Budget, when Osborne was universally derided for raising taxes on pasties, pensioners, churches and charities, while cutting them for the top 1 per cent, it's still a mess he could have done without. Little wonder that the Tories are now desperately claiming that the poster was merely a "one-off tweet by the party chairman". 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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