George's Osborne's Sweet Treat
For George Osborne, the afterglow of last May’s general election must feel a long time ago. With his poll numbers tanking and his leadership ambitions under threat from Brexiter-in-Chief Boris Johnson, the Chancellor today faces tough questions about his budget. Already this morning Osborne has been quizzed about a ‘black hole’ in his numbers, and some Tory backbenchers are angry at his use of the independent Office of Budget Responsibility to warn of the uncertainty leaving the EU would create.
But yesterday’s newspaper headlines weren’t entirely negative for the Chancellor. One reason for this was his surprise announcement of a levy on sugary drinks. The tax, which will be applied to the volume of sugar-sweetened drinks companies produce, was hailed by food standards campaigners and even won the support of Jeremy Corbyn. Some Conservative MPs are muttering about the “nanny state”, but the move distracts attention from more sobering aspects of the budget. It also gives the Chancellor something of a social policy legacy in the event he is forced out of office by a vote for Brexit this summer.
As for Mr Corbyn, the Labour leader was judged to have cleared low expectations with a combative response to the Chancellor that hit his core vote’s sweet spot. This may be no bad thing for Labour ahead of local elections in which this base is likely to be more motivated to turn out, but Corbyn’s performance still left many of his MPs cold. His Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell also continues to face awkward questions about his attitude to capitalism and stance on public spending cuts, issues that will come back to haunt Labour again in time. One uneven budget from a Tory Chancellor a Labour government does not make.
Photograph: George Osborne