UK Politics

Spending Review: Will tax credit U-turn damage Osborne?

George Osborne speaking in House of Commons Image copyright Reuters

Smell the burning rubber. Listen to the screeching brakes. Watch the chancellor execute a U-turn so spectacular there'll be marks on the road for years to come.

Changing his mind won't come cheap. The total bill over the next five years for his decision will be £9.4bn.

It could have been worse. Low interest rates helped keep the government's debt payments down. George Osborne will take credit for an economy that makes that possible.

Rebellious Tory backbenchers, peers - particularly Labour ones - and perhaps even The Sun will all boast it was them that won the tax credit battle.

They're not the only ones celebrating. Senior police officers warned, worried and lobbied their way to a guarantee they would suffer no cuts.

Just as many in Westminster were sure cops were for the chop, they were pretty certain Osborne's forecast surplus would shrink. It didn't.

He's seen off, for a bit anyway, some potential looming crises. The health service had already been promised more extra money up front that it might have expected, and there was a promise social care funding would rise.

Like all these speeches though, just because you had to listen hard for the bad news, that that didn't mean it wasn't there.

The Tory manifesto promised thirty free hours of childcare for three and four year olds with working parents. Now there will be strings attached. Only parents working for more than 16 hours with incomes less than £100,000 will qualify.

Time after time government departments were told their day-to-day budgets would be cut. People rarely march on Whitehall demanding more administrators, but it's far from obvious what impact that will have.

Where does all this leave the standing of a would-be Tory leader? He's managed to avoid a reputation as the man who took your tax credits away, and perhaps secured one as the man who fluffed the decision in the first place.

And some Tories may wonder just how determined a cutter of the state he really is. Compare and contrast with his previous plans and he has pushed borrowing higher than it would have been.

Even for an all-powerful chancellor, it's a tricky part of the job: guessing and balancing the demands of both the nation's voters and the Conservative Party electorate.

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