With David Cameron’s first full cabinet reshuffle now expected shortly after MPs return from the summer recess on 3 September, the latest Times/Populus poll (£) asked the striking question, which cabinet ministers “should be sacked”? Top of the voters’ hit list, with 53 per cent of voters saying he should lose his job, was Andrew Lansley, a reminder that the government’s NHS reforms remain one of the biggest obstacles to a Tory victory at the next election. Next was Jeremy Hunt on 48 per cent, followed by Theresa May on 46 per cent, and George Osborne on 45 per cent. Conversely, just 36 per cent want Ken Clarke to be removed, and only 20 per cent think William Hague should be (though the Foreign Office is always a safe haven for ministers).
Hague, increasingly spoken of as the “under the bus” candidate to succeed Cameron, will also be cheered by the finding that 49 per cent of voters believe he’s doing a “good job”. By contrast, just 18 per cent believe Osborne is, which, given the recent economic data, is no surprise. The poll will likely embolden the growing band of conservative commentators (and even the odd Tory MP) publicly calling for the Chancellor’s head. There is much evidence to suggest that Osborne is the biggest drag on the government’s ratings. Before his kamikaze Budget, 46 per cent of voters thought the Tories were “competent and capable”, now just 34 per cent do, giving Labour a two-point lead on this measure.
The absence of a growth strategy was the key to the Tories’ decline; the formation of one is now the key to their revival. But the double-dip means that Osborne’s room for manoeuvre is shrinking all the time. Yesterday’s IMF growth forecasts (premised on a successful resolution of the eurozone crisis) suggest that he will almost certainly be forced to choose between ripping up his deficit plan (Osborne is still – just – on track to meet his “fiscal mandate” to eliminate the structural deficit over a rolling five-year period and to ensure that net debt is falling as percentage of GDP by the end of this parliament), destroying his reputation as a fiscal hawk, or cutting spending even harder and further strangling growth. This year’s autumn statement should already be giving the Chancellor sleepless nights.