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.