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.

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

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