Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Suddenly, Not So Gorgeous; Political Editor JONATHAN WALKER Analyses the Controversy over Tax Credits, and What It Means for the Prime Ministerial Ambitions of George Osborne

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Suddenly, Not So Gorgeous; Political Editor JONATHAN WALKER Analyses the Controversy over Tax Credits, and What It Means for the Prime Ministerial Ambitions of George Osborne

Article excerpt

Byline: JONATHAN WALKER

THERE won't be much sympathy for Andrew Lloyd-Webber, the multi-millionaire composer summoned home from the US to vote for tax credit cuts in the House of Lords.

He wasted his time - because the Labour amendment designed to block the cuts was approved anyway.

Asking him to fly over from New York suggests the Government believed it had a chance of winning the vote.

They were wrong. In fairness, it's hard to predict which way the House of Lords will go on controversial issues, partly because of the number of independent "crossbench" peers who don't take orders from anyone.

Even so, the Lords defeat has put a dent in George Osborne's reputation as a political genius.

He's known for laying traps for his Labour opponents to blunder into. The most recent triumph was his fiscal responsibility charter, which supposedly obliges the government to run a budget surplus in times of economic growth.

This is a gimmick, as governments don't need any charter to give them permission to run a surplus.

Nonetheless, Labour got into a spin in the run-up to a Commons vote on the Charter earlier this month, first announcing that it would back the measure and then opposing it.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell made the best of a bad job, owning up to what he called an "embarrassing" U-turn.

But ploys like this have done the Chancellor no end of good among Conservative MPs and activists - who he hopes will one day make him party leader in place of David Cameron.

For a while now, Mr Osborne's leadership ambitions have appeared unstoppable.

His chief rival for the party leadership job was charismatic London mayor Boris Johnson. Other potential candidates include Home Secretary Theresa May and Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.

But none of them looked like a serious threat to Mr Osborne.

Even the so-called "Omnishambles" Budget of 2012, which included such gems as the "pasty tax" - an unpopular attempt to impose VAT on all hot takeaway food - has been all-but forgotten.

Now, however, Conservatives have been reminded that the Chancellor is only human after all. Because his triumphant Summer Budget of July this year has become a nightmare for the Government.

At the time, Conservatives were cheering. They loved his announcement of a "compulsory living wage", a 50p increase on the existing living wage for people aged 25 and over.

But this has been overshadowed by the cuts to tax credits which were announced at the same time.

The Conservative strategy is to claim to be the real party for working people - in contrast to Labour, which (the Tories say) wants to spend recklessly, force your children to pay off Turn to Page 22 From Page 21 the nation's massive debts and hand over your hard-earned cash to undeserving benefit claimants. …

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