The swaggering arrogance that is storing up pain for the Tories

As George Osborne sat down to the sound of rapturous applause and shaking order papers, he had achieved what few had thought possible. He had fronted up to the biggest political challenge facing a chancellor in years and ended not just still standing, but firmly on the front foot.

After a hoarse hour spelling out the detail on the investment and the reasoning behind the savings, Osborne climaxed his comprehensive spending review with the sort of political sleight of hand that must have had the absent Gordon Brown nodding in grudging approval. After all the cuts, all the efficiencies, the elimination of Labour waste, the fledgling government, thanks to turning around the economy, had actually cut less than Darling had planned. Your move Mr Johnson.

"We're all in this together"

Except, of course, that he hadn’t. Osborne’s move was calculated to win a short term tactical battle. The treasury team would never have attempted such a move against a Brown or a Darling. They took the gamble to instantly put Labour’s new shadow chancellor under pressure. The braying 30 and 40 somethings in the cheap seats loved it. Of course they did. The backbenchers were raucous but whilst this was a tactical triumph it was a strategic disaster.

Osborne’s cheap trick was a grave error in two ways. First, it gave the left the pictures they wanted – every month or so for the next four and half years we’ll see those ecstatic young Tories celebrating the deepest cuts in a generation by shaking their order papers like they’ve just re-sunk the Belgrano.

The second mistake is more difficult to gauge but just as damaging. Osborne’s creative accounting was self evidently nonsense, and what’s more he knew it, and if there is one thing the commentariat don’t like it’s being taken for fools. Many ignored his claim, others were scathing – especially Channel 4’s Faisal Islam – but all will have noted it.

This weekend we’ve seen it again with the PR-PM telling us about his ‘spectacular success’ in Europe. This was dutifully written up, even by the Guardian who had earlier noted that what he had actually achieved was getting the French and Germans to agree to their own existing position after he had roundly failed to get his freeze or cut. In any other world that’s a failure but to this government (and the Guardian) it’s a spectacular success.

This week has also seen Eric Pickles, the government’s own transparency champion, flouting an FoI. An FoI, let’s not forget, based on public money spent on legal advice following a particularly nasty “background briefing”. New politics this is not.

Earlier in the year, Michael Gove promised and then refused to visit Sandwell following the will we/won’t we BSF funding debacle. We remember Jeremy Hunt’s irritation at suicides slowing his way into work with monotonous regularity. And we hear the unemployed told to get on the bus. Just as, a generation ago, Norman Tebbit told us to get on our bikes.

What ties these things together is arrogance.

It’s safe to say that this government enjoys a pretty fair wind with the media at the moment. Of course it does. Every national newspaper but the Mirror backed it in one way or another, and it can’t hurt that it outsourced its DCMS policy to James Murdoch. But that won’t last forever. The new masters of our universe might feel all powerful now but this is still the phoney war, and their lack of humility is a study in the storing up of grievances.

Make no mistake, this Tory party has a swagger, one that they know they should avoid but one that they just can’t help.

All the early talk of new politics and an end to spin was nonsense. (See Tom Watson’s exposé of an admittedly bravura performance over ministers’ gifts last week). We always knew that, but it shouldn’t have become this obvious this quickly.

At a time when public confidence in politics has never been lower, the Conservatives must tread very carefully not to look like Tory-boy caricatures who cheer the cuts and sneer at the working and middles classes. When the tide turns – and it will – it will hit the Tories hard. The way they behave leading up to that day will not be forgotten. For every short term tactical win in the chamber, every stonewalling of a legitimate request, for every press conference that tells us black is white, and every promise broken to avoid a difficult day, this Conservative frontbench is sleepwalking into being the most unpopular government in decades.

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6 Responses to “The swaggering arrogance that is storing up pain for the Tories”

  1. William says:

    Viewed from the South Downs, not north London,the front bench appears to be both Conservative and Libdem, united in a desire to keep Labour out of power after 13 years of Brown misrule.The Leader of the Opposition, unelected by his party members and MPs, would appear to have to acknowledge the real Climate Change.Our party, Labour,has been wiped out in England, outside of the large cities,and working Labour families are not keen on immigrants ,and their taxes subsidising people of all walks of life that do not work.Cheap slogans like ‘Swaggering Arrogance’ will do nothing to regain the trust of voters who voted for TONY BLAIR.Do we want to talk to ourselves, and lose, or do we want to win the next election?

  2. ZED45 says:

    bang on. i hope their swagger is their undoing – born to rule, born to hunt, never worked a day in their lives. rich kids who smashed up restaurants and let dad’s wallet make mistakes vanish. won’t be so easy to hide this time.

  3. cashado says:

    Excellent article. The policies of these charlatans and half-wits simply don’t stand up to any kind of analytical rigour. At the same time as we are being told that the grand ideas of this despicable cabal are a ‘work in process’, a compliant media readily accepts the perverse logic of 23 privileged millionaires lecturing the public on fairness. These are an extremely moderate bunch of human beings: arrogant, deluded, preposterous, but ultimately mediocre. Possibly the worst possible advertisement for private education.

  4. William says:

    Cashado,which labour PM won 3 elections and where did he go to school?

  5. Cole says:

    Well, Labour are neck-&-neck in the polls (or slightly ahead), not least because of the LibDem collapse, so the Corporate Media narrative about ConDem dominance is largely nonsense. Of course, there’s a lot of work to do…

  6. Jared Gaites says:

    I am prepared to sit by the river and wait.

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