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George Osborne is becoming a locus for Tory discontent – the party leadership should be wary

By Peter Hoskin
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One of the most important leitmotifs of this Parliament has been the shift in attitudes towards George Osborne. Once, Tory backbenchers regarded him as the solid backbone of the Cameroon project, a man who was more personable and practical than the party leader. Now, they’re more likely to complain about him and his policies.

To some extent, it was ever going to be thus: Mr Osborne is, after all, operating at a time of severe economic distress, and in coalition with the Lib Dems too. But the Chancellor has still harmed himself, at times. The discontent began in earnest after last year’s wobbly Budget, and through last summer. I wrote about it at the time for the Times (£).

Yet things have become even worse over recent months. Further economic contraction, the precariousness of the fiscal rules, and the Treasury’s refusal to implement such measures as the marriage tax break have all fuelled dissatisfaction with Mr Osborne. The inheritance tax freeze is a just a fresh aggravation. Tory MPs are increasingly saying in public what the Daily Telegraph said in its editorial on Saturday.

This isn’t to say that Osborne is on the way out – far from it. The Chancellor is too bound up with the Coalition’s economic policy, and its politics, to be jettisoned now. Besides, he has allies all across Government.  

But the Tory leadership should certainly be wary of this new mood. Internal party divide is never a good look, particularly when it concerns the main issue of the day and of the next election, which is the economy. I’d be surprised if Mr Osborne isn’t thinking even more vigorously about measures that—public finances permitting—could regain the support of backbenchers, as well as of the country.  

As it happens, this hunt for ‘trump cards’ is a theme of Rachel Sylvester’s column (£) today. She concludes:

‘One Government strategist says that Mr Osborne is at his best when he has to find a trump card against the odds. “If I had to bet on anyone to have an ace in his hand I would put my chips on George,” he says. The Chancellor will, however, need more than luck on his side to get a royal flush when he delivers the Budget in six weeks’ time.’

Myself, I think it’s yet more reason for Mr Osborne to consider Robert Halfon’s proposal for the reinstatement of the 10p tax rate.

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