Row over Tory 'beer and bingo' Budget advert

media captionDanny Alexander: "I thought it was a spoof at first - it's just pretty extraordinary"

A Conservative advert highlighting changes to beer and bingo taxes in the Budget has been criticised by Labour and the Lib Dems as "patronising".

The online advert said the 1p cut in beer duty and the halving of bingo duty to 10% would help "hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy".

The chancellor said it was "very good" that people were hearing about measures to help the bingo and pub industries.

But Lib Dem Treasury minister Danny Alexander said it was "rather patronising".

He told the BBC's Newsnight programme it "demeans some sensible things in the Budget" and said when he first saw the advert, he thought it was a "spoof".

'Fob off'

"It may be our Budget but it is their (the Conservatives') words," Mr Alexander added.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls told the BBC News Channel it was a "clumsy and ham-fisted" campaign.

"They cut tax on Bingo, which is a good thing," he said. "They took a penny off a pint of beer - you've got to drink one hundred pints of beer to save a pound.

media captionEd Balls: "It was so patronising and I can't believe the chancellor - did he really sign this off?"

"They then put an advert out which says we've done things to help working people with 'the kind of things they enjoy'.

"'They'? It was so patronising! I can't believe the chancellor. Did he really sign this advert off? Does he really think that he can just say to people who are working people, well look bingo and beer that's all you care about?

"What about energy prices? What about youth jobs? What about getting on the housing ladder? What about small businesses who can't get bank loans?

"On all those things he was silent. He's not going to fob off and patronise people in our country."

David Cameron's official spokesman said the prime minister had full confidence in Mr Shapps and thought he was "doing a really good job" as party chairman.

He was not able to say when Mr Cameron had last played bingo or had a pint of beer.

The tax changes were among a series of measures announced by Chancellor George Osborne in a Budget he said would reward the "makers, doers and savers".

image copyrightPA
image captionMr Osborne's changes were applauded by pubs and brewers

The change to bingo duty followed a prolonged campaign by the industry and MPs from all parties.

As well as cutting duty on beer and freezing duty on spirits and cider, the government is scrapping the alcohol duty escalator which saw automatic rises of 2% above inflation every year.

Mr Shapps came under fire from Labour figures after tweeting the advert.

Former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott entered the debate, tweeting: "Families worse off by £1,600 a year. Tory #budget2014 answer? Let them play bingo!"

And shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said the advert reminded him "of Mr Cholmondley-Warner when he asked Grayson to investigate the 'working class'".

The subject immediately trended on Twitter, as people posted pastiche versions of the advert.

Mr Shapps did not respond to the criticism but, in a subsequent tweet, accused Mr Miliband of failing to address any of the Budget's main proposals in his response in the House of Commons.

'Nothing sensible to say'

Chancellor George Osborne told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is very good that we're letting people know that we're helping the bingo industry which was decimated under the previous government, helping the pub industry and the brewing industry."

The bingo and beer tax cuts were "important measures", he continued. "These industries employ many thousands of people, but they weren't the only things in the Budget."

He accused Labour of having "decimated the bingo industry and put alcohol taxes up and up, such that many thousands of people lost their jobs in the pub industry".

"I would suggest that they actually engage with the Budget because they haven't had anything sensible to say about it yet."

media captionBoris Johnson on the Tory beer and bingo tax poster: "I didn't write the blooming thing"

Conservative mayor of London Boris Johnson said: "It's definitely right to do things in the Budget that are going to help everybody and as far as I understand it we're cutting taxes on bingo and on beer - that's fine by me."

When pressed about his views on the wording of the poster, he added: "I didn't write the blooming thing."

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said Mr Osborne was annoyed by the coverage of the "partly synthetic, partly genuine" row.

Some people loathe the ad - other people don't know what all the fuss is about, he continued.

"But if you're the chancellor you want nothing to distract from your message, and it's never a good idea in your advertising to show who you're targeting quite so blatantly and obviously as they did," Robinson added.

Soon after Mr Shapps published the image on Twitter users of the social media site set to work creating parodies.

image copyright@dhothersall / Twitter
image captionThis version is by Labour activist Duncan Hothersall

Earlier on Budget day the main parties had been seeking to get their messages across on Twitter - such as this from the the official Conservative account:

image copyright@Conservatives / Twitter

And this from the official Labour Party account, highlighting the lack of the phrase "cost of living" in the Budget:

image copyrightLabour/Twitter

The row comes amid attempts by the Conservatives to appeal beyond their traditional heartlands and attract blue-collar voters who are seen as vital to helping them win the next election.

Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who lobbied for the bingo change, has suggested that the party should rename itself the Workers' Party and give free membership to trade unionists.