Seen through the lens of football management, David Cameron’s ‘total confidence’ in George Osborne sounds more alarming for the chancellor than if the PM had cried, “Wait till I get my hands on the clot!’
What a Horlicks. Never would it be more fascinating to join a Tory top brass team-building day. George; David; Ros Altmann all desperate to find a friend – someone who might listen to ‘their version’ as they scramble under the camouflage netting, while IDS’s team vest hangs unused on its peg.
Setting aside for one moment the actual implications for claimants, you might have some sympathy with Osborne whose previous attempt to curb disability spending actually delivered an increase likely to bust the budget to the tune of £10bn by 2019. So this was in effect a second failed attempt to make savings, earning him his second public caning and a £4.4bn problem.
But a key question is, what were his communications team thinking of?
How could it have been anything other than disastrous to accompany news of tax rewards for the middle classes, with disability benefits cuts? Did he learn nothing from the bedroom tax debacle? Does he have a fetish for whatever might be the generic term for a series of omnishambles? A focus group of moderately intelligent chimpanzees would have kicked this proposal into touch.
Given the easily predicted ‘smug bastard’ risk inherent in the perennially awful ‘red box’ photocall; the apparent failure to line up endorsements of support in advance (fielding Jamie Oliver to swoon over the sugar tax was a feeble decoy) and the known potential of IDS to be a total stinker, I would say Osborne’s PR advisers could only be forgiven if this measure was a last minute imperative. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, it appears they could have delayed it, so I’m at a loss. Given the difficult history of this measure, surely they should have disaggregated it from what would have been a wholly triumphant budget (now just 13 weeks ahead of that EU Referendum); taken the time to consult with key charities; wooed key stakeholders by negotiating on ‘dealbreakers’; lined up a narrative re imperatives driving the changes…..need I go on. Waiting until the start of the summer holidays to announce it might be a slightly dirty trick but it’s right there in your PR armoury in times of trouble.
The fact that IDS has gone on to give such eloquent interviews sounding fluently loyal to his party, supportive of deficit reduction yet the living embodiment of One Nation Social Justice and a powerful conviction politician, is just bloody bad luck. And unlike Gideon (George’s real name and his derisive nickname), IDS seems to have benefited from quality PR advice – leaving unconfirmed but undenied the charge that Dave called him a ‘sh*t’ during his exit interview.
It’s frustrating. Osborne’s economic achievements on the UK’s behalf are immense but his handling of disability benefits and his communication of them translate as at best, someone unable to master popular messaging and at worst, an uncaring and heartless politician.