UK Politics

Osborne urges '100% focus' on economy after election defeats

George Osborne has said his party will focus on what matters to the public amid criticism from Conservative MPs in the wake of local election defeats.

Some Tories have urged the coalition to drop plans for electing the House of Lords and legalising gay marriage in favour of more populist policies.

The chancellor told the BBC ministers should "focus 100%" on the economy and not get "distracted" by other issues.

But they would still do "socially progressive" things, he insisted.

He was responding to criticism of the coalition's direction and priorities from some Conservative-supporting newspapers and backbench Tory MPs.

On Wednesday, the coalition will outline its agenda for the next year in the Queen's Speech, as it tries to regain the initiative after both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems suffered heavy losses in local elections.

'Change direction'

Many Conservative MPs want ministers to use the occasion to assert more traditional Conservative priorities on issues such as welfare, crime and tax and either delay or abandon proposals to legalise gay marriage and reform the House of Lords, seen predominately as Liberal Democrat ideas.

Mr Osborne told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that "100% of our efforts need to be directed" at fixing the economy, which is back in recession.

While he believed the "national mood" was behind the need to get the deficit under control, he said he accepted many people were having a "very tough" time and had either backed other parties or not voted at all in last week's elections.

"The government understands your message. We take it on the chin and we have got to learn from what you are saying... what people are saying is focus on the things which really matter like the economy, welfare, education, crime and healthcare... and not get distracted by too many other issues".

Asked about plans to reform the House of Lords - which senior Tory Tim Yeo said should be "relegated right down to the bottom of the queue" - he said Parliament should debate the issue but it was not an "overriding" priority.

On proposals to legalise gay marriage by 2015, Mr Osborne said "we are a socially progressive country and it is something I support" but opposing views had to be listened to in a future consultation.

Earlier, Tory backbencher Nadine Dorries told the Stephen Nolan show on Radio 5 live the Conservatives could see even bigger losses in council elections next year unless the party "changed direction".

On the issue of leadership, Ms Dorries - a frequent critic of the prime minister and chancellor - said some of her colleagues could push for a confidence vote in the prime minister unless the situation improved in the next year and the issue was already being "discussed".

But her colleague Robert Halfon said the majority of MPs were "supportive" of the PM as the government confronted a very difficult economic situation and Conservative peer Lord Fowler said Mr Cameron should "stick to his guns".

'Rattled'

For Labour, shadow chancellor Ed Balls said David Cameron and George Osborne had been "rattled" by the election results.

"For the Conservatives, it is much more deeper than mid-term blues," he told the Sunday Politics. "It is about an economic failure and a sense that Conservative leaders are out of touch and making the wrong calls about tax and fairness in the economy."

While Labour supported plans to reduce the deficit, he said the government's austerity plan was self-defeating and Mr Osborne was "in a hole" and "should stop digging".

Labour are calling for "practical steps" in this week's Queen's Speech to ease the burden on living standards, such as caps on rail fare rises and employment guarantees for young people.

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