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Osborne on message, Harriet on form, Clegg on nodding dog duty

Posted on 22 June 2010 | 3:06pm

You may remember during the election that I was somewhat dubious about Labour targeting George Osborne as the Tories’ ‘weakest link’.

What you saw today was a right-wing Tory Chancellor setting out, with considerable confidence, a major package of measures that fit with his right-wing Tory view of the world. Nick Clegg may be deputy Prime Minister, but the real Number 2 in this government is Mr Osborne.

In so far as there were sops to the Liberal Democrats, they tended to be rhetorical. Progressive alliance my rump.

Osborne was fairly clear during the election campaign about what would be required to fulfil his desire to tackle the deficit, make substantial cuts and put up some taxes. What he has done very cleverly since is use the presence of the Lib Dems in government to develop political cover.

As he gave the speech, Cameron was blocked from view by Osborne at the Despatch Box. So we saw Nick Clegg in best nodding dog mode on one side of the Chancellor, and Danny Alexander constantly leaning in to Cameron for approval of the measures George was announcing.

Danny Boy should not look so worried. David Cameron likes this Budget; and likes the fact that the Lib Dems have to support it.

I thought Harriet Harman did well in her response. It is not easy to respond on your feet to the Budget. But she was right to throw back at Cameron his words on VAT being a regressive tax, right to point out that the new Office of Budget Responsibility has blown a hole in the government’s claims that the economy is worse than they expected it to be, and right to remind the Lib Dems that as with so much that was in the Queen’s Speech, they are basically now standing on their heads.

The basic argument between Tory and Labour is largely unchanged since the election. Cut the deficit now, when the recovery is fragile – or continue to support the economy precisely because of that fragility.

The arguments around that, and the considerable impact of the many specific changes announced, and the many more cuts that will flow from the big figure announcements, and disproportionatgely impact upon the poor, will define our politics for some time.

But I ended the main exchanges feeling that however much I disagree with the content of his Budget, Osborne at least has an agenda and is making sure he takes it forward, whatever the impediments seated around him, Harriet Harman responded well, and the Lib Dems are heading for big trouble, and they deserve every bit of it.

Vince Cable looked like he felt the pain of Harriet’s jibe that he had gone from national treasure to Treasury poodle. I confidently predict an entrepreneur somewhere will do Clegg as a nodding dog and we will one day see him in the back windows of cars, which is where and how he will be best remembered. And despite being surrounded by BBC journalists saying – and I agree – that George Osborne had shown the courage of his convictions, Alexander is currently looking very uncomfortable as he says he is very comfortable with the changes Osborne announced.

*** Buy Prelude to Power here at Amazon.

  • Dr Olu Ojedokun


    Thank you for this one.

    Please can you tell me why Harriet Harman did not contest for the leadership of the Labour Party? She was brilliant, superb!

    George Osborne has laid the basis for massive unemployment and a period of low growth in his ideological quest to lower the deficit to please the market hysterically driven by his constant reference to Greece. It is indeed a Greek tradegdy!

    2ndly, all the supposedly goodies; on pensions, restoring the earning links etc were already announced in the last budget of the Labour government.

    The people i pity for following this ideological narrative are the Liberals, whatever happens to the Tories, the Liberals are toast.

  • Ned Clarke

    “What he has done very cleverly since is use the presence of the Lib Dems in government to develop political cover” – Lord Hutton is one of yours I think:)

  • Tricky Dickie

    So we have a bank Levy that raises 2bn and then a reduction in corporation tax of 4% over 4 years that gives them back 30bn plus.
    Labour deficit reduction plan (accepted by OBR to reduce deficit by more than half over 4 years without VAT rise) predicting 20% department cuts…Tories implementing 25% cuts on top of raising VAT 2.5%.
    CGT qualified increase 28% and increase from 2m to 5m allowance….who is paying for this budget????
    Austerity was too harsh for the tories to campaign on so they toned it down, Liberals now viserated on the floor of the house for bringing in the VAT rise they poster trailed in the election as a Tory outrage.
    Council tax to be held to force councils to sack workers and increase charges for services like elderly care…so much for progressive budget.
    The media falling over themselves to swallow and regurgitate the buzz words of the coalition.
    This budget was not unavoidable it was inevitable…tory ideology and Thatcherism reborn like a pheonix from the ashes.
    God help those too poor to really matter and too rich to be protected. Children will suffer most as parents feel the squeeze. In spite of all this the schools minister can still find money to give sharp elbowed hags the right to decimate our local schools.
    Labour really do need to get a hold of this and fast the Coalition is running away with the agenda and will be out of sight before the Labour party wake up.

  • Hamish

    This is the end for the Lib Dems. There can’t be any question about it. They’re looking so threadbare and lacking in principle. The pious expressions, the patronising tilt to toughness. Harriet’s line on Cable was a beauty. They’re likely to discover very soon that the Primark brand of power that they’ve negotiated won’t stand many washes. Roll on the first defection.

  • Matthew S. Dent

    I’m consistantly surprised that the Tories and Lib Dems actually think this budget is legitimate. It’s done exactly what Labour predicted it would, and given that they got every call on the economy wrong whilst Labour were in government. It’s astounding that anyone could possibly trust them with the economy now, when it’s crystal clear that they’re going to shatter this still-recovering economy and undo all the good that Labour manaed.

    It’s a typical Tory budget, helping the rich at the expense of the poor, and you’re entirely right Alistair, the worst part of all of this is the Lib Dem support for it. It goes against everything they said in the election campaign, and they MUST realise that they are going to take the heat from this. Their alienated voters will see that they can’t stand by their principles, and are unworth of their votes, and unworthy of power.

    Harriet’s response was brilliant, and demonstrates exactly why this Libservative government won’t endure. How can an unprincipled government stand against an opposition that will stand by their principles and by the people they represent.

  • sue thorne

    Thank goodness for Alastair Campbell’s blog, would blow a fuse if not. Linguist Cleggy and clever little Danny how could they be so hypocritical. The poor will suffer. BBC is so bias, can’t wait to watch channel 4 new tonight.

  • Lynda Davies

    You are so right Alastair, The Lib Dems looked very uncomfortable while Osborne was speaking delivering his very Right Wing ideology led budget shielded by his claims it’s all Labour’s fault – which it isn’t and the Lib Dems they have a lot to answer for. Harriet was amazing she just gets better and better I would vote for her if she was standing for leader

  • olli issakainen

    Rubber has hit the road!
    When David Cameron said that cutting was something he did not want to do but something he had to do, he was not telling the truth. Mr Cameron wants Big Society with Big Citizens, and in order to achieve this visionary paradise he must first cut, cut and cut!
    Cuts will be ultimate victory for the free-market capitalism the Conservatives believe in. They have finally been able to beat Big Government. In the future Adam Smith´s invisible hand will ensure the wellbeing of society. They believe that laissez-faire is law of nature.
    Some Tories think that government should only be responsible for defence and law and order. The rest should be left to private sector. Helping poor is against natural process. When state gives power back to market everything is back to natural order of things.
    Big Society is, of course, an euphemism for reduction of public funds in assisting the poor!
    George Osborne´s “Emergency Budget” is political slogan. OBR said that Labour´s plans to halve the deficit in four years were credible. Labour would have done the deficit reduction in a fair way without risking recovery.
    George Osborne´s Budget is political theatre. It is also an ideological gamble on private sector. Is there any evidence that Britons want a smaller state?
    If the early cuts go wrong, the nasty party will also be known as stupid party. And by the way, short-term welfare reforms actually cost money.
    George Osborne has no mandate for early cuts. There is no national consensus on the matter. There is no unanswerable economics behind it. There is no case for cutting now! Britain is not Greece. And term structure of Britain´s debt is long – almost 14 years.
    George Osborne and Mervyn King have made a deal. The Bank of England will help George Osborne and the Treasury by keeping interest rates low and monetary supply loose.
    George Osborne´s strategy is to blame Labour for the worldwide recession which the Conservatives would have made a lot worse. But it is worth remembering that Britain entered the crisis with debt of 40% of GDP – a figure lower than many others had. And that the Tories endorsed Labour´s spending plans 2005-07.
    So it is Mr Osborne who is the public enemy number one. He has, in all probability, made the biggest economic misjudgement with his ideological Budget in postwar history.
    Unfair Budget might tear the society apart. It will cause social problems by increasing inequality. Financiers will not suffer in their yachts as much as others. A staged 3p increase in basic and higher rates of income tax would have raised £15bn. What is needed is tougher levy on bankers and financial institutions.
    George Osborne is gambling with living standards. The Tories believe that cutting early when they still have public goodwill will be path to future election victory. They think there is enough time to change strategy ahead of next election.
    Alistair Darling said that rush to cuts will risk recovery. Government has to support demand. Consolidation plan must be consistent with the pace at which private sector can create jobs.
    Labour must defend party´s economic legacy and offer a coherent vision how capitalism can be reconnected to the public good. Labour´s Keynesian response to financial crisis was right!
    The intellectual weather has now shifted away from the Keynesian to the orthodox. Did not people learn anything from the crisis?
    Rush to austerity risks global recovery as Obama has said. The Tories were wrong on recession, now they are wrong on recovery. The result will be high unemployment and low growth for years.
    Ed Balls said that cuts may put Britain into a 1930s-style depression.
    Rubber has hit the road. Will the road lead to ruin?

  • Chris lancashire

    What was really refreshing was a Chancellor standing up and telling the whole truth, however unpleasant it may be. Contrast with the immediate predecessors who gave the good news at the Despatch Box and tucked the bad away on p557, para 3 (d).

  • Rob G

    Really enjoyed Alistair Campbell’s book, felt he was a frank & honest commentator of what went on.

    Sadly now that Labour are in opposition all we get is sour grape stuff that has jumped straight into the deep end of punch & judy politics (sic) – really disappointed – sounds so bitter that the lib dems chose coalition the “the other side”

  • Jacquie R

    When the Coalition was formed after the election, my initial reaction was to put my tribal loyalties aside while Labour renews, and make the most of the newly found Lib Dem influence in a Tory government.

    This feeling has been evapourating ever since and has now completely vanished. While some of the concessions the Lib Dems have achieved as coaltion partners are welcome, they pale into insignifance compared to their support of this tough but UNfair very Conservative budget which is hiking VAT to 20%.

    I hope that disaffected Lib Dem MPs will cross to the Opposition benches sooner rather than later. It would show more principle to act now, rather than when the going gets ultra tough in their constituencies.

    And I wish we should stop referring to this government as the Coalition. To all intents and purposes it is a Conservative government, increasingy reminiscent of its Thatcherite predecessors.

  • moshe

    i dont know if any of you managed to watch dpm question time nick lost it he is a very and has no way to let of steam. he lashed t every quetion throw his way and may be the cracks are just showing

  • Jules

    You are so desperate to be liked Campbell – like the smallest boy at school

  • sarah

    Taken the worst ever mouthful of abuse from a parent today for trying to teach her son.
    Come home from work to find that is followed by a kick in the teeth from Osbourne and co. From the Tories I never expected anything else. From the Libs I never expected it.
    I love being a teacher. But very soon some of us will be wondering if it is worth the grief.

  • twiga07


    you are so right about BBC, I left a simple comment on Nick Robinson’s blog saying “Another bias blog from Mr Robinson!”. Guess what? The moderator removed it.

  • Phil Bourne

    Well I felt truly sorry for Danny Alexander… they had obviously chosen the softest interview (the BBC) for him to do…

    ..but even Nick Robinson made him look like a rabbit in the headlights… his only answers to the VAT increase and the cuts in public spending was a woeful ‘there was no alternative’ (a la Margaret Thatcher but with nowhere near the same level of conviction)

    I just wonder what those libdem voters who thought they were voting for the alternative of a $5bn tax on the banks and parity of CGT with income tax to ‘create a fair Britain’ are thinking now?

  • Graham Jones

    It’s one of the most damaging budgets I think I’ve heard in years. The only other contender would have been delivered by Norman Lamont, at the time around Black Wednesday. It seems Mr Cameron hasn’t learned from his part in that episode, as he watched his Chancellor set us all on the road to ruin. Harriet Harrman did well to respond, and nailed them pretty well. It’s nice to see her channeling her spite towards the tories these days.
    I want to see the leadership candidates get more air-time, in response to this bodge-it the chancellor has delivered. Blobby Boulton was on hand, to placate the bad news from his new friends, while the BBC were useless and overpaid, as usual.
    It’s precisely what we expected from Osbourne, a budget to make the poor pay for the mistakes of the rich.
    Cable suddenly looked lost at sea today. He had been putting on a brave face till now, but when it came to hearing Osbournes words, it seemed as if something finally sunk in – that he’s a tory now, and he will have to do as Gideon says.

  • Tom

    Alastair, please please PLEASE get the party to find someone to make Clegg nodding dogs ASAP. They’d be great for getting a bit of money back into party coffers – I’d certainly buy one and I don’t even have a car.

  • Tricky Dickie

    Just watched Channel4 news. A really good interview with The now defrocked St Vincent.
    I remembered the tax bombshell poster, then remembered the Tory backlash claiming lies lies and dammed lies. Osboure did the rounds on the media channels decrying the smear.
    The red book figures show the second worst hit are the VERY poorest….Cable didnt even know!
    An 8bn tory war chest in the last year of the govt….wonder what they plan to do with that….buy the election with our own money instead of Lord Ashcrofts I expect.
    So much for the debates, noone held to account for failing to answer any hard questions…..I hope the likes of Andrew Neil and co will now get their teeth into this ideological assault on the people. It is the duty of the Paxman,s of this world to now expose the truth that these tory boys are implementing a plan laid out in the backroom of Osbourn’s local hostelry.

  • s chapman

    Its the most important budget for many many years and I’m genuinely impressed by how detailed and obivously well planned it was.George Osbourne spoke very very confidently and told thr truth and that truth oozed out.

    WE ALL HAVE TO PAY for Labours debts even those very arrogant sycophantic public sector workers that kiss your toes on here Alastair,mate.Im glad Osbourne has got the axe out on the public sector.Employing 1m extra workers over the last decade,which was a big bribe to vote for you lot was always going to fail.
    Stop keep saying the economy is not as bad as the Tories are saying….the debt is slightly lower but its £156 bln you dickhead – read the number !!! As a percentage its horrendous and Ollie Swedhead below go back to school you have know clue what you are rambling on about….how do you know the Tories would have made it worse?? Ridiculous assumption based on nothing that didn’t even happen…all hypothetical…
    SO ALL YOU LOT ON HERE wake up and smell the P45s…they are on there way..

  • Andy Howard

    Never been a big fan of Harriet Harman but she was spot on in her attack on the Lib Dems.They will lose so much support for helping the Tories,the”ministerial cars”jibe was a killer.

  • Dr Olu Ojedokun

    S Champan: What are you on? Where were you when your Tories supported the Labour government expenditure and general economic policy up to the end of 2008? If Labour caused the crises, the the Tories were complicit, or were you not around then?

  • Peter Shaw

    Perhaps S Chapman should be the one going back to school as he doesn’t seem to know the difference between ‘no’ and ‘know’. Perhaps he should get himself a job on Sky News as he seems to be ‘blowing his top’, Boulton style.
    Osborne spent the first half of his speech blaming the previous Government for the debt, only to have to later ‘back track’ by blaming the banks in an effort to justify the new ‘levy’. As ever the Tories want it both ways.

  • alan

    As others have said Harriet was on form today Cable seemed to age when she laid into him him and so he should,Clegg,well what can be said about the “nodster”?i wish i had the time i would count how many nods he gets in in a minute he was hitting hyper drive at one point i thought his hinges where about to come off,he’s fast becoming Cameron’s “David steel spitting image puppet”maybe thats how he wants to be remembered?

    As for the budget well in a shock move the Tories shaft the poor to within an inch of their lives while the rich get away with it yet again,utter shock there i suppose i had to check and see if i had leg warmers on as i honestly thought i was back in the 80’s listening to boy George babble on about fairness and the like it made me sick.

    I fear that this time next March when we’re mired deep in recession again back he’ll come with the axe and hit the poor again surely then this sham of a government will fall apart and another election will be called because if this goes the distance there’ll be nothing left of society as we know it today.

  • tony flaig

    In my opinion Harriet Harman was awful, full of spite, usual Labour tosh, still for the last 13 years of Labour spouting superficial nonsense what else can we expect.Keep deluding yourselves that you represent anyone other than small click of Labour party hacks.

    Labour have systematically shafted the working people, poured money to big industry and lazy welfare scroungers, printed money, lorded it up, viewed working people as Bigots.

    Just how would labour have dealt with this crisis, well the answer is they didn’t try, and this is why your in the wilderness.

    Conservatives and Liberals had no choice, as one outgoing minister put it the moneys all gone.

    Labour abandoned us bigots got cosy with big business, the rest is history just like Labour who couldn’t give a flying toss for working people

  • sarah

    S Chapman
    That was “truth” oozing out of Osbourne??
    Funny. My hubby and I were very loudly calling it something else.
    Your attitude towards public servants does nothing but show, without the spin,what you Tory boys really feel. Personally, I could accept, (but not afford), a pay and child benefit freeze from whoever was in power, but what sticks in my throat (almost as much as the bile that must be sticking in lib throats right now), is the 25% departmental cuts. It is here you see the true ideology in all it’s blueness. Cuts like this, but £50 million available right here, right now for Free Schools?? Don’t make me laugh.
    But the problem for the Tories is that you have the power, but not the mandate. You kind of “won” the election. But you did not offer the debate on the future of public services (I think I’m right in saying that a short time ago the phrase was “effieciency cuts.”) As it becomes clear what your true intentions are this coalition will, I hope, end.
    In opposition, Labour modified changed and became “New.” Just what have the Tories been doing for 13 years apart from discovering the word compassionate? If yesterday showed compassion, I dread to see what you will get up to when you start being brutal.

  • craig thomas

    I feel that Mr. S. Chapman’s post deserves, from those of us to the left of his particular brand of political animal, a thoughtful and measured response. It’s all too easy to be reflexibly glib, even cheap, in the vibrant, pulsating swirl of cyberspace. Despite the deep emotion aroused by the return of classical economics in action, we social democrats (and anyone further a gauche on the spectrum) need to keep calm and direct criticism back to the coalition’s supporters that meets the intellectual challenge of the project’s ideology both precisely and commensurately.

    So, while another George Osborne interview plays in my right ear (on 5 Live, for the record), I say to you, Mr. Chapman,

    Fuck off, Twatty-Bollocks.

  • kathy

    I don’t agree that Harriet Harman did well in her speech after the Budget announcements. She is absolutely hopeless! She cannot speak without reading from a sheet and was screaming like a fishwife. It got so bad I turned the sound down. Labour needs to get its act together. If all they can do is attack the Lib Dems, they are just going to sound bitter and jealous. Where were the arguments to say this budget is wrong? Where was the proof that a Labour Budget would have been any better? Remember Alistair Darling said ‘Cuts worse that the 80s’! Tell us what Labour would have done and how they would have cut the deficit. Give us figures that we can believe. Labour do not offer any credible solutions and until they do people will not take them seriously again. Only time will tell who is right on when to make cuts but most people in the country understand that we have to do something. Labour did not get a mandate from the country so their job now is to be an affective opposition.Listening to them constantly attacking the Lib Dems is becoming very boring. And finally where was Gordon Brown today? Does no-one realise how bad this looks to the Electorate? He should have the decency to resign as an MP if he is never going to turn up and represent the people who voted for him?

  • Nick

    As a Conservative, I find myself in rare agreement with Alistair Campbell on this one.

    As George Osborne pointed out on the Today programme earlier, the Party has a clear mandate because they were were quite clear throughout the election campaign that we would cut faster, and deeper. And lets also be clear, the vast majority of Conservatives welcome any measures that will shrink the dead hand of the State in people’s lives. How can it possibly be right that there are over 100 families in this country receiving in excess of £100,000 per year in Housing Benefit ? These people are caught in a trap out of which they have no hope of escaping, and making a financial contribution to society.

    The Liberal’s position is altogether more difficult. Alistair Darling himself played on it during his media performances this morning. A poor performance in next years local elections could put real pressure on Clegg’s leadership, although much will also depend on whether Labour can choose an electable leader who speaks to people in a language they understand.

  • Phil


    I have only become mildly interested in politics since the TV debates prior to the election. I like most, or some of the country liked Clegg within this personality contest. He came across well, but as you rightly observe he has become more like a conserve, being spread by the Tory upper hand.

    The nodding dog would be a big seller, not sure the public could afford the 20% VAT however.