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”.